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Breathing gases for use at ambient pressures below normal atmospheric pressure are usually air enriched with oxygen to provide sufficient oxygen to maintain life and consciousness, or to allow higher levels of exertion than would be possible using air.It is common to provide the additional oxygen as a pure gas added to the breathing air at inhalation, or though a life-support system.Filling a diving cylinder with pure oxygen costs around five times more than filling it with compressed air.
The minimum safe partial pressure of oxygen in a breathing gas is commonly held to be 16 k Pa (0.16 bar).If the body is deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes, unconsciousness and death result.The tissues and organs within the body (notably the heart and brain) are damaged if deprived of oxygen for much longer than four minutes.But other mixtures of gases, or pure gases, are also used in breathing equipment and enclosed habitats such as scuba equipment, surface supplied diving equipment, recompression chambers, high-altitude mountaineering, high-flying aircraft, submarines, space suits, spacecraft, medical life support and first aid equipment, and anaesthetic machines.Oxygen is the essential component for any breathing gas, at a partial pressure of between roughly 0.16 and 1.60 bar at the ambient pressure.
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Many divers find that the level of narcosis caused by a 30 m (100 ft) dive, whilst breathing air, is a comfortable maximum.