The Power of Pressure: One Doc's View or Notes from My Local Dive Club Meeting

decompression chamber


I love a dive store that can:

A) pull in a top-shelf physician specialist to speak, and

B) pull in 30 dive club members and guests in Los Angeles... on a school night!

Steve Ladd, owner of Ocean Adventures Dive Company, offered up a smart night of diving information by inviting renowned specialist, Dr. Ralph Potkin, to talk about what he does and what he loves: Hyperbaric Medicine... and diving.

Dr. Potkin is the director of an LA Hyperbaric Medical treatment institute, faculty at UCLA School of Medicine, team physician of the US Free-Diving team, and a lifelong diving enthusiast.

Dive club attendees were fascinated to learn about the differences between single-person 100% O2 hyperbaric chambers and the air-pressurized multi-person chambers (with oxygen delivered by mask or hood) more familiar to recreational divers.

Graphs, charts, and photos described medical HBO (Hyperbaric Oxygen) therapy's success in treating non-healing wounds, osteomyelitis, skin burns, and failing skin grafts. This stuff works by reducing inflammation in the injured tissue and limiting the white blood cell response that often causes delayed healing in wounds.

Non-diver medical patients often have to learn how to equalize their ears during treatments to avoid ear barotrauma, a skill all the divers in the room take for granted.

And who knew medical patients in multi-person chambers get their oxygen via clear vinyl hoods instead of the on-demand valve masks.... because most people in the world don't want to breathe through a regulator for hours at a time! Go figure!

This is serious stuff!!! And the divers pummeled the doc with enthusiastic questions.

And then it all came back to diving:

  • Why high partial pressures of oxygen are tolerable in the chamber but likely to cause oxygen-toxicity when a diver's working underwater.

  • How a record-breaking 20-minute static apnea breath-hold was accomplished after 30 minutes of pre-oxygenation... and that amazing mammalian diving response.

  • Type I vs. Type II decompression illness, Arterial Gas Embolisms, and why early oxygen treatment is always a good idea for any diving decompression injury.

  • That cardiac pacemakers have an MOD determined by the manufacturers!! (Where should we put the labeling tape?)

  • And why this doc has seen enough to become very cautious, diving nitrox while limiting profiles to air tables.

Dr. Potkin is a consulting physician for DAN, specializing in asthma and diving.
He described the parameters that may allow someone with mild asthma under good medical control to dive wisely and safely.

Mildly asthmatic divers who have been cleared to dive under these protocols have shown no increased risk of drowning and no increased risk of arterial gas embolisms according to research studies quoted by Dr. Potkin.

What a cool night.

A wise dive shop trusting it's dive club members to be interested in challenging topics, and the divers stepping up.

And then there was pizza.

So glad I could be there!

Thanks, Ocean Adventures!



Written by Claudette Dorsey, Senior Moderator on Dive Matrix. This article was first published on