Deep diving has more hazards and greater risk than basic open water diving. Nitrogen narcosis, the “narks” or “rapture of the deep”, starts with feelings of euphoria and over-confidence but then leads to numbness and memory impairment similar to alcohol intoxication. Decompression sickness, or the “bends”, can happen if a diver ascends too fast, when excess inert gas leaves solution in the blood and tissues and forms bubbles. These bubbles produce mechanical and biochemical effects that lead to the condition.
The onset of symptoms depends on the severity of the tissue gas loading and may develop during ascent in severe cases, but is frequently delayed until after reaching the surface. Bone degeneration (dysbaric osteonecrosis) is caused by the bubbles forming inside the bones; most commonly the upper arm and the thighs. Deep diving involves a much greater danger of all of these, and presents the additional risk of oxygen toxicity, which may lead to a convulsion underwater. Very deep diving using a helium–oxygen mixture (heliox) carries a risk of high-pressure nervous syndrome. Coping with the physical and physiological stresses of deep diving requires good physical conditioning.
Using normal scuba equipment, breathing gas consumption is proportional to ambient pressure – so at 50 metres (160 ft), where the pressure is 6 bar, a diver breathes 6 times as much as on the surface (1 bar). Heavy physical exertion makes the diver breathe even more gas, and gas becomes denser requiring increased effort to breathe with depth, leading to increasing risk of hypercapnia—an excess of carbon dioxide in the blood. The need to do decompression stops increases with depth. A diver at 6 metres (20 ft) may be able to dive for many hours without needing to do decompression stops. At depths greater than 40 metres (130 ft), a diver may have only a few minutes at the deepest part of the dive before decompression stops are needed. In the event of an emergency the diver cannot make an immediate ascent to the surface without risking decompression sickness. All of these considerations result in the amount of breathing gas required for deep diving being much greater than for shallow open water diving.