Diffusivity of a gas is inversely proportional to atmospheric pressure. We studied pulmonary gas mixing in hyperbaric environments (5.5 and 9.5 ATA) as a means of understanding the role played by diffusion in normal situations and also as a means of determining whether persons in hyperbaric environments will be handicapped by poor diffusive mixing. Our subjects took single breaths of a mixture of indicator gases (5% each of SF6, Ar, Ne, and He; 20% O2, balance N2). Recordings of expired volumes and concentrations showed that heavier indicators were less well mixed than lighter ones, as evidenced by a slower fall during the transition between dead space and "alveolar" gas and a steeper slope of the alveolar plateau. Differences between light and heavy gases increased as pressure increased. Amounts of the indicators retained in the functional residual capacity (FRC) or residual volume after a single breath had a weak positive relation to diffusivity; the amounts (A) in the FRC (as fraction of inspired amounts) were well fitted by a simple equation. ARFC/AI = 0.55 - (0.0010/D), where D is molecular diffusivity. We conclude that the changes of distribution of inspired gas that occur with large changes of diffusivity have only a minor effect on the amount of gas exchanged between the inspirate and residual gas in the FRC.
- Copyright © 1981 the American Physiological Society