Nitrox refers to any gas mixture composed (excepting trace gases) of nitrogen and oxygen. This includes atmospheric air, which is approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases, primarily argon. In the usual application, underwater diving, nitrox is normally distinguished from air and handled differently.
The most common use of nitrox mixtures containing oxygen in higher proportions than atmospheric air is in scuba diving, where the reduced partial pressure of nitrogen is advantageous in reducing nitrogen uptake in the body's tissues, thereby extending the practicable underwater dive time by reducing the decompression requirement, or reducing the risk of decompression sickness (also known as the bends).
Nitrox is used to a lesser extent in surface-supplied diving, as these advantages are reduced by the more complex logistical requirements for nitrox compared to the use of simple low-pressure compressors for breathing gas supply. Nitrox can also be used in hyperbaric treatment of decompression illness, usually at pressures where pure oxygen would be hazardous.
Nitrox is not a safer gas than compressed air in all respects; although its use can reduce the risk of decompression sickness, it increases the risk of oxygen toxicity and fire.Though not generally referred to as nitrox, an oxygen-enriched air mixture is routinely provided at normal surface ambient pressure as oxygen therapy to patients with compromised respiration and circulation.