Nitrogen Narcosis

  • Medical Author: Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
  • Medical Editor: N Stuart Harris, MD, MFA
  • Medical Editor: Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
  • Medical Editor: James Kimo Takayesu, MD

Nitrogen Narcosis Facts

  • Breathing nitrogen under pressure produces an intoxicating effect known as nitrogen narcosis.
  • Most divers experience symptoms of nitrogen narcosis at depths greater than 100 feet, but symptoms may occur in depths as little as 33 feet.
  • For this reason, use of compressed air deeper than 120 feet is not recommended.
  • Ascent reverses the symptoms of nitrogen narcosis.
  • Factors that increase the risk of narcosis include: 

Nitrogen Narcosis Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • light-headedness,
  • inattention,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • poor judgment,
  • anxiety,
  • decreased coordination,
  • hallucinations, and
  • coma.

Nitrogen narcosis can lead to death.

Nitrogen Narcosis Treatment

  • Ascend from the depth at which the symptoms become apparent.
  • If symptoms fail to resolve after ascent, narcosis is not the cause of the symptoms.

When to Seek Medical Care for Nitrogen Narcosis

Seek medical treatment if symptoms persist.

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Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


"Complications of SCUBA diving"