Written by Garry K. Smith
Newcastle and Hunter Valley Speleo Society.

Many words have been introduced into the English language over the last hundred years. Some because there is a need to describe a new item or process which has been discovered. Some examples are Karabiner, Piton and Wetsuit. On other occasions a new word or group of words may be used to describe an action or new sport. Examples which spring to mind are Chimneying, Cave Diving, Prusiking and Abseiling. There are the words which are spelt differently, depending which school you went to. A classic example would be Karabiner or Carabiner. The need to formalise the spelling and exact definition was recognized many years ago when the ASF first published in 1968 the Speleo Handbook, edited by P. Matthews.

The 1985 Australian Karst Index added to this on-going process with an excellent glossary of terms listed in section 14. The authors must be commended on such a comprehensive list of definitions for words in use up to that period.

Currently there are a number of slang and colloquial caving terms which have been used widely for many years. The exact definition of these words remain open for interpretation, as there appears to be no recent listing of their correct meaning. Hopefully this following list will be thought provoking and set the wheels in motion toward having some additional words officially recognized in the Speleological fraternity.

ARMCHAIR CAVER An experienced caver who is now incapable of caving or a person still able to, but has lost the urge to actually go caving. On the other hand they may spend much of their time writing or reading caving books and hours may be spent reminiscing over photographs from past trips.

BOOBTUBE A clear flexible tube about one metre long. Used like a straw to drink water from small crevices or inaccessible pools. The original name was the Super Syphon Sucker, first utilised widely around 1973-74 by Jeffory Smith a Venturer Scout in the Kotara Unit (N.S.W). Jeffory used it extensively on bushwalking, caving and cross-country skiing trips and the use of such a tube spread widely among outdoor enthusiasts from there. Several name changes occurred over the next few years, however during the last 10 to 15 years the name Boob Tube has been most widely used.

BOULDER CHOKE A collapse of rock from floor to roof which makes further progress difficult or dangerous.

FOUL AIR Cave atmosphere containing a high concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) which affects a cavers respiration and metabolism. This term usually refers to air which contains 1% CO2 (by volume) or greater. Simple test:- A lighted match will go out if foul air is present.

GROT-HOLE A small insignificant cave with no possible leads, often tight and difficult to manoeuvre oneself in.

GROUND-TROG The systematic search of the surface ground for cave entrances.

JUG-HANDLE A small loop of rock shaped like a handle, used as an anchor point or hand hold to aid climbing.

KRAB Short for Karabiner. A steel or aluminium alloy snap-link used in rope work.

MICROBOD A term used to describe a child or an adult caver of small build - able to fit through narrow passages and seemingly able to dislocate their joints to negotiate tight corners.

OVERHANG A ledge or shelf of rock which projects past the rest of the rock face below. Also referred to as part of an abseil (either above or below ground), where the abseiler is hanging free of the rock face. This occurs once an abseiler has passed a projection of rock which makes it impossible for the abseiler's feet to touch the rock face without swinging on the rope.

ROOF-SNIFFING The act of edging oneself along a small water-filled passage, on your back with only sufficient airspace for eyes and nose. It should be pointed out that this practice can be very dangerous for inexperienced persons.

SCROGGIN An edible random mixture of nuts, dried fruit, rice crisps, unwrapped lollies, chocolate and edible seeds. The mixture is consumed by cavers, bushwalkers and other outdoor enthusiasts as a source of high energy food. It is made up to suit an individuals taste and requirements.

TOURI A group of tourists at a commercially developed caving area. In other words those people who go on guided or self guided tours where fixed lighting is provided to view the caves. "Stay out of sight of the tourists (touri)", is often one of the conditions attached to a caving permit, where the permit cave is in the close vicinity of a commercial tour cave.

TROG-UP Attiring oneself in suitable clothing and necessary equipment in readiness to go underground.


Comments are most welcome.

J. N. Jennings

Copyright Notice and References

If you would like to comment on the NEW items or suggest further additions please send mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Last modified 26 May 1996

Abbreviations and conventions
Abb. = abbreviation
Syn. = synonym (word with same meaning)
Cf. = confer (compare) with the following term which is not identical but related to it.
n. = noun
v. = verb
A word in brackets in the left-hand column is commonly used in conjunction with the preceding word without altering the meaning.
A word in bold is defined elsewhere in this list.
A word that blinks is a new addition.
Square brackets enclose statements not part of the definition but for special reasons included in the list.

ABNEY LEVEL A type of clinometer with a bubble tube used in cave survey to determine vertical angles.

ABSEIL (n.) A controlled descent of a rope using friction obtained by (1) wrapping the rope around the body in a particular way or (2) passing the rope through a karabiner or (3) passing the rope through a descender.

ABSEIL (v.) To do an abseil.

ACCIDENTAL (n.) An animal accidentally living in a cave.

ACETYLENE An inflammable hydrocarbon gas, C2H2, produced by water reacting with calcium carbide. When burnt, yields carbon dioxide as well as light.

ACTIVE CAVE A cave which has a stream flowing in it. Cf. live cave.

ADAPTATION An inherited characteristic of an organism instructure, function or behaviour which makes it better able to survive and reproduce in a particular environment. Lengthening of appendages, loss of pigment and modification of eyes are considered adaptations to the dark zone of caves.

AGGRESSIVE Referring to water which is still capable of dissolving more limestone, other karst rock, or speleothems.

ANASTOMOSIS A mesh of tubes or half-tubes.

ANCHOR A fixed object used to secure a man whilst operating a safety rope or for attaching equipment such as ladders or ropes.

ARAGONITE A less common crystalline form of calcium carbonate than calcite, denser and orthorhombic.

ARTEFACT A product of human manufacture or art, e.g. tools of bone, stone, etc., paintings, engravings. In caves, tools are often buried in sediment. [Scientific attention should be drawn to the finding of artefacts in caves.]

ARTHROPODS The most common group of animals inhabiting caves,including insects, crustaceans, spiders, millipedes, etc. They have jointed limbs and external skeletons.

ASCENDER A mechanical device for ascending ropes.

ASSOCIATION A relatively stable community of different species living in a characteristic habitat.

AZIMUTH The true bearing of a survey line, determined by measurement from an accurate survey or by observations of sun or stars.

BARE KARST Karst with much exposed bedrock.

BAT A member of the order Chiroptera, the only mammals capable of true flight as they have membranes between the toes of their forefeet.

BATHYPHREATIC Referring to water moving with some speed through downward looping passages in the phreatic zone.

BEARING The angle measured clockwise that a line makes withthe north line. True, magnetic and grid bearings are measured respectively from true, magnetic and gridnorth.

BED A depositional layer of sedimentary bedrock or unconsolidated sediment.

BEDDING-GRIKE A narrow, rectilinear slot in a karst rock outcrop dueto solution along a bedding-plane.

BEDDING-PLANE A surface separating two beds, usually planar.

BEDDING-PLANE CAVE A cavity developed along a bedding-plane and elongate in cross-section as a result.

BELAY (1) To attach to an anchor. (2) To operate a safety line.

BIOSPELEOLOGY The scientific study of organisms living in caves.

BLIND SHAFT A vertical extension upwards from part of a cave but not reaching the surface; small in area in relation to its height.

BLIND VALLEY A valley that is closed abruptly at its lower end by a cliff or slope facing up the valley. It may have a perennial or intermittent stream which sinks at its lower end or it may be a dry valley.

BLOWHOLE (1) A hole to the surface in the roof of a sea cave through which waves force air and water. (2) A hole in the ground through which air blows in and out strongly, sometimes audibly; common in the Nullarbor Plain.

BOBBIN A decender that opens to enclose the rope around two fixed pulleys. May have a handle ("STOP") which must be squeezed to allow descent.

BOLLARD A projection of rock over which rope, tape or wire can be placed to create an anchor.

BOLT A high tensile steel bolt used as an anchor; either a conical bolt screwed into a metal holder in a hole drilled in rock, causing expansion for grip, or a bolt with partially filed thread hammered into a slightly smaller hole.

BONE BRECCIA A breccia containing many bone fragments. [Scientific attention should be drawn to the finding of such in caves.]

BRAKE BAR A round bar hinged to a karabiner or rappel rack used for abseiling.

BRANCHWORK A dendritic system of underground streams or passages wherein branches join successively to form a major stream or passage.

BREAKDOWN Fall of rock from roof or wall of a cave.

BRECCIA Angular fragments of rock and/or fossils cemented together or with a matrix of finer sediment. Cf. bone breccia.

BRUNTON COMPASS A type of compass, with a hinged mirror, which can be held in the hand or mounted on a tripod and which includes a clinometer. Designed also for measuring rock dip and strike.

CALCITE The commonest calcium carbonate (CaCO3) mineral and the main constituent of limestone, with different crystal forms in the rhombohedral subsystem.

CANOPY A compound speleothem consisting of a flowstone cover of a bedrock projection and of a fringe of stalactites or shawls on the outer edge.

CANYON (1) A deep valley with steep to vertical walls; in karst frequently formed by a river rising on impervious rocks outside the karst area. (2) A deep, elongated cavity cut by running water in the roof or floor of a cave or forming a cave passage.

CARBIDE Calcium carbide, CaC2, used with water to make acetylene in lamps.

CAVE A natural cavity in rock large enough to be entered by man. It may be water-filled. If it becomes full of ice or sediment and is impenetrable, the term applies but will need qualification.

CAVE BLISTER An almost perfect hemisphere of egg-shell calcite.

CAVE BREATHING (1) Movement of air in and out of a cave entrance at intervals. (2) The associated air currents within the cave.

CAVE CORAL Very small speleothems consisting of short stalks with bulbous ends, usually occurring in numbers in patches.

CAVE EARTH Clay, silt, fine sand and/or humus deposited in a cave.

CAVE ECOLOGY The study of the interaction between cave organisms and their environment, e.g. energy input from surface, climatic influences.

CAVE FILL Transported materials such as silt, clay, sand and gravel which cover the bedrock floor or partially or wholly block some part of a cave.

CAVE FLOWER Syn. gypsum flower.

CAVE PEARL A smooth, polished and rounded speleothem found in shallow hollows into which water drips. Internally has concentric layers around a nucleus.

CAVE POSTULE A white, hemispherical wall and roof deposit of calcite.

CAVE SPRING A natural flow of water from rock or sediment inside a cave.

CAVE SYSTEM A collection of caves interconnected by enterable passages or linked hydrologically or a cave with an extensive complex of chambers and passages.

CAVERNICOLE An animal which normally lives in caves for the whole or part of its life cycle.

CAVING The entering and exploration of caves.

CAVERN A very large chamber within a cave.

CENOTE A partly water-filled, wall-sided doline.

CHAMBER The largest order of cavity in a cave, with considerable width and length but not necessarily great height.

CHERT A light grey to black or red rock, which fractures irregularly, composed of extremely fine crystalline silica and often occurring as nodules or layers in limestone.

CHIMNEY A vertical or nearly vertical opening in a cave, narrow enough to be climbed by chimneying.

CHIMNEYING Ascending or descending by means of opposed body and/or limb pressures against two facing walls.

CHOCK A block of metal for use as a chockstone.

CHOCKSTONE A rock wedged between two fixed rock surfaces.

CHOKE Rock debris or cave fill blocking part of a cave.

CLAUSTROPHOBIA An irrational fear of being in a closed space.

CLINOMETER An instrument for measuring vertical angles or anglesof dip.

CLOGGER A type of ascender without a handle; used with a karabiner to keep it securely on the rope.

CLOSED TRAVERSE A traverse which begins and ends at survey points with known co-ordinates and orientation or at the same point.

COCKPIT KARST Conekarst in which the residual hills are chiefly hemispheroidal and the closed depressions often lobate.

COLUMN A speleothem from floor to ceiling, formed by the growth of a stalactite and a stalagmite to join, or by the growth of either to meet bedrock.

COMPASS An instrument with a magnetic needle which is free to point to magnetic north. For survey the needle is either attached to a graduated card or can be read against a graduated circle to measure the angle in degrees from the north clockwise.

CONEKARST Karst, usually tropical, dominated by its projecting residual relief rather than by its closed depressions.

CONDUIT An underground stream course completely filled with water and under hydrostatic pressure or a circular or elliptical passage inferred to have been such a stream course.

CONULITES The "splash cups" that form on certain cave floors beneath energetic ceiling drip sites.

COPROLITE Fossilized large excrement of animals, sometimes found in caves, especially those used as lairs.

COPROPHAGE A scavenger which feeds on animal dung, including guano.

CORRASION The wearing away of bedrock or loose sediment by mechanical action of moving agents, especially water. i.e. Corrosion and abraison

CORROSION Syn. solution.

COVERED KARST Karst where the bedrock is mainly concealed by soil or superficial deposits.

COW'S TAIL A length of rope used as a safety when crossing a rebelay. CRAWL (WAY) A passage which must be negotiated on hands and knees. Cf. flattener.

CROSS-SECTION A section of a cave passage or a chamber across its width.

CRYPTOZOA The assemblage of small terrestrial animals found living in darkness beneath stones, logs, bark, etc. Potential colonizers of caves.

CRYSTAL POOL A cave pool generally with little or no overflow, containing well-formed crystals.

CURRENT MARKING Shallow asymmetrical hollows formed by solution by turbulent waterflow and distributed regularly over karst rock surfaces. Cf. scallop.

CURTAIN A speleothem in the form of a wavy or folded sheet hanging from the roof or wall of a cave, often translucent and resonant.

DARK ZONE The part of a cave which daylight does not reach.

DARK ADAPTATION A change in the retina of the eye sensitising it to dim light (the eye 'becomes accustomed to the dark'). Loss of sensitivity on re-exposure to brighter light is 'light adaptation'.

DAYLIGHT HOLE An opening to the surface in the roof of a cave.

DEAD CAVE A cave without streams or drips of water.

DECLINATION The angle from true (or grid) north to magnetic north for a given time and place.

DECOMPOSERS Living things, chiefly bacteria and fungi, that live by extracting energy from tissues of dead animals and plants.

DECORATION Cave features due to secondary mineral precipitation,usually of calcite. Syn. speleothem.

DESCENDER A mechanical device for descending ropes.

DEVIATION Usually a sling of rope or tape attached to a natural anchor at one end and clipped to the rope with a karabiner at the other. Used to avoid rub points on pitches. Syn. Redirection

DEVELOPED SECTION The result of straightening out a section composed of several parts with differing directions into one common plane. Usually the plane is vertical and the length of the section equals the plan lengths of the passages and chambers comprising it.

DIG An excavation made (1) to discover or extend a cave or (2) to uncover artefacts or animal bones.

DIP The angle at which beds are inclined from the horizontal. The true dip is the maximum angle of the bedding planes at right angles to the strike. Lesser angles in other directions are apparent dips.

DOG-TOOTH SPAR A variety of calcite with acute-pointed crystals.

DOLINE A closed depression draining underground in karst, ofsimple but variable form, e.g. cylindrical, conical, bowl- or dish-shaped. From a few to many hundreds of metres in dimensions.

DOLINE KARST Karst dominated by closed depressions, chiefly dolines, perforating a simple surface.

DOLOMITE (1) A mineral consisting of the double carbonate of magnesium and calcium, CaMg(CO3)2. (2) A rock made chiefly of dolomite mineral.

DOMAIN A biological region of the earth's crust.

DOME A large hemispheroidal hollow in the roof of a cave,formed by the breakdown and/or salt weathering, generally in mechanically weak rocks, which prevents bedding and joints dominating the form.

DONGA In the Nullarbor Plain a shallow, closed depression, several metres deep and hundreds of metres across, with a flat clay-loam floor and very gentle slopes.

DRIPHOLE A hole formed by water dripping onto the cave floor.

DRIPLINE A line on the ground at a cave entrance formed by drips from the rock above. Useful in cave survey to define the beginning of the cave.

DRIPSTONE A deposit formed from drops falling from cave roofs or walls, usually of calcite.

DRY CAVE A cave without a running stream. Cf. dead cave.

DRY VALLEY A valley without a surface stream channel.

DUCK (-UNDER) A place where water is at or close to the cave roof for a short distance so that it can only be passed by submersion.

DUNE LIMESTONE Syn. eolian calcarenite.

DYE GAUGING Determining stream discharge by inserting a known quantity of dye and measuring its concentration after mixing.

DYNAMIC PHREAS A phreatic zone or part of a phreatic zone where water moves fast with turbulence under hydrostatic pressure.

EASTING (1) The distance of a point east of the point of origin of the grid of a map or some abbreviation of it. (2) The west-east component of a survey leg, or of a series of legs or of a complete traverse; east is positive and west is negative.

ECCENTRIC A speleothem of abnormal shape or attitude. Cf. helictite.

ENDOGEAN Pertaining to the domain immediately beneath the ground surface, i.e. in the soil or plant litter.

EOLIAN CALCARENITE A limestone formed on land by solution and redeposition of calcium carbonate in coastal dune sands containing a large proportion of calcareous sand from mollusc shells and other organic remains.

EPIGEAN Pertaining to the biological domain at the surface or above it.

EPIPHREATIC Referring to water moving with some speed in the top of the phreatic zone or in the zone liable to be temporarily in flood time part of the phreatic zone.

EROSION The wearing away of bedrock or sediment by mechanical and chemical actions of all moving agents such as rivers, wind and glaciers at the surface or in caves.

EXSURGENCE A spring fed only by percolation water.

FAULT A fracture separating two parts of a once continuous rock body with relative movement along the fault plane.

FAULT CAVE A cave developed along a fault or fault zone, either by movement of the fault or by preferential solution along it.

FAULT PLANE A plane along which movement of a fault has taken place.

FISSURE An open crack in rock or soil.

FISSURE CAVE A narrow, verical cave passage, often developed along a joint but not necessarily so. Usually due to solution but sometimes to tension.

FLATTENER A passage, which, though wide, is so low that movement is only possible in a prone position.

FLOE CALCITE Very thin flakes of calcite floating on the surface of a cave pool or previously formed in this way.

FLOWSTONE A deposit formed from thin films or trickles of water over floors or walls, usually of calcite. Cf. travertine.

FLUORESCEIN A reddish-yellow organic dye which gives a green fluorescence to water. Detectable in very dilute solutions so used in water tracing and dye gauging in the form of the salt, sodium fluorescein.

FLUOROMETER An instrument for measuring the fluorescence of water; used in water tracing and dye gauging.

FORESTRY COMPASS A lightweight, compact instrument to be mounted on a tripod, which functions as a compass and a clinometer, and has a telescopic sight. Some types facilitate measurement of horizontal angles as well as bearings.

FOSSIL The remains or traces of animals or plants preserved in rocks or sediments.

FREE PITCH Where a rope or ladder hangs vertically and free of the walls.

FREE-SURFACE STREAM A cave stream which does not normally fill its passage to the roof.

FRIEND A mechanical caming device used for anchors.

GARDENING Clearing stones or other loose material from a route, usually a pitch, which might otherwise be dangerous to a caver continuing.

GIBBS An ascender with its cam operated by the weight of the caver.

GLACIER CAVE A cave formed within or beneath a glacier.

GOUR Syn. rimstone dam.

GRADE The class of a cave survey on the basis of the precision of the instruments and the accuracy of the methods.

GRID A system of squares on a map formed by straight lines which represent progressive distances east and north of a fixed point of origin.

GRID NORTH The direction of a north-south grid line on a map. Except for the north-south grid line through the point of origin of the grid, it will differ slightly from true north.

GRIKE A deep, narrow, vertical or steeply inclined, rectilinear slot in a rock outcrop due to solution along a joint.

GROTTO A room in a cave of moderate dimensions but richly decorated.

GROUNDWATER Syn. phreatic water.

GUANO Large accumulations of dung, often partly mineralized, including rock fragments, animal skeletal material and products of reactions between excretions and rock. In caves, derived from bats and to a lesser extent from birds.

GUANOBIA An animal association feeding on guano. Not considered true cavernicoles as guano is not confined to caves.

GYPSUM The mineral hydrated calcium sulphate, CaSO4.2H2O.

GYPSUM FLOWER An elongated and curving deposit of gypsum on a cave surface.

HALF-BLIND VALLEY A blind valley which overflows its threshold when the stream sink cannot accept all the water at a time of flood.

HALF-TUBE A semi-cylindrical, elongate recess in a cave surface, often meandering or anastomosing.

HALITE The sodium chloride mineral, NaCl, in the cubic crystalline system.

HALL A lofty chamber considerably longer than it is wide.

HARNESS An arrangement of tape for attaching the lower body (seat harness) or the upper (chest harness) to ascenders or descenders.

HELICTITE A speleothem, which at one or more stages of its growth changes its axis from the vertical to give a curving or angular form.

HELMET A miner's, climber's or other kind of non-metallic, protective helmet used in caving.

HISTOPLASMOSIS A lung disease which may be caught from the guano of some caves, caused by a fungus, Histoplasmosis capsulatum. Usually mild in effect, it can be fatal in rare cases.

HORIZONTAL ANGLE The difference in direction of two survey lines measured clockwise in a horizontal plane.

HYDROSTATIC PRESSURE The pressure due to a column of water.

HYPOGEAN Pertaining to the domain below the endogean, including the dark zone of caves.

ICE CAVE A cave with perennial ice in it.

INFLOW CAVE A cave into which a stream enters or is known to have entered formerly but which cannot be followed downstream to the surface.

INTERSTITIAL MEDIUM Spaces between grains of sand or fine gravel filled with water which contains phreatobia.

INVERTED SIPHON A siphon of U-profile.

JOINT A planar or gently-curving crack separating two parts of once continuous rock without relative movement along its plane.

JOINT-PLANE CAVE A cavity developed along a joint and elongate in cross-section.

JUMAR An ascender with a simple finger-operated safety catch, a handle and several attachment points.

KANKAR (pronounced kunkar) A deposit, often nodular, of calcium carbonate formed in soils of semi-arid regions. Sometimes forms cave roofs.

KARABINER A steel or other alloy, oval- or D-shaped link with a spring-loaded gate on one side to admit a rope or to clip to a ladder, piton, etc.

KARREN The minor forms of karst due to solution of rock on the surface or underground.

KARST Terrain with special landforms and drainage characteristics due to greater solubility of certain rocks in natural waters than is common. Derived from the geographical name of part of Slovenia.

KARST WINDOW A closed depression, not a polje, which has a stream flowing across its bottom.

KERNMANTEL ROPE A rope with a plaited sheath around a core of parallel or twisted strands.

KEYHOLE (PASSAGE) A small passage or opening in a cave, which is round above and narrow below.

KRAB Colloquial abbreviation of karabiner.

LADDER In caving, a flexible, lightweight ladder of galvanized or stainless steel wires and aluminium alloy rungs.

LAKE In caving, a body of standing water in a cave, but used for what would be called a pond or pool on the surface.

LAVA-CAVE A cave in a lava flow; usually a tube or tunnel formed by flow of liquid lava through a solidified mass, or by roofing of an open channel of flowing lava. Small caves in lava also form as gas blisters.

LAY The way in which strands of a rope or cable are twisted.

LEAD A passage noticed but as yet unexplored.

LEAD-ACID CELL A rechargeable acid battery for use with an electric cap lamp.

LEADER In caving, the person directing the activities of a caving party, especially with regard to safety.

LEG A part of a survey traverse between two successive stations.

LEUCOPHOR A colourless water tracer, which fluoresces blue.

LIMESTONE A sedimentary rock consisting mainly of calcium carbonate, CaC03.

LINTEL LINE A line on the ground at a cave entrance perpendicularly beneath the outer edge of the rock above; may or may not coincide with the dripline.

LIQUID MEDIUM Contains the aquatic cavernicoles.

LIVE CAVE A cave containing a stream or active speleothems.

LONGITUDINAL (or LONG) SECTION A section along the length of a cave passage or chamber or combination of these, or along a survey traverse in a cave.

MAGNETIC NORTH The direction to the north magnetic pole at a given place and time. This differs from the direction towards which the north end of a compass points by a small individual compass error and by the effect of any local magnetic attraction.

MARBLE Limestone recrystallized and hardened by pressure and heat.

MAZE Syn. network.

MEANDER An arcuate curve in a river course due to a stream eroding sideways.

MEANDER NICHE A hemispherically-roofed part of a cave formed by a stream meandering and cutting down at the same time.

MICROCLIMATE The climate (i.e. temperature, humidity, air movements, etc.) of a restricted area or space, e.g. of a cave or on a lesser scale of the space beneath stones in a cave.

MICROGOUR Miniature rimstone dams with associated tiny pools of the order of 1cm wide and deep on flowstone.

MOONMILK Syn. Rockmilk. A soft, white plastic speleothem consisting of calcite, hydrocalcite, hydromagnesite or huntite.

MUD PENDULITE A pendulite with the knob coated in mud.

NATURAL ARCH An arch of rock formed by weathering.

NATURAL BRIDGE A bridge of rock spanning a ravine or valley and formed by erosive agents.

NECROPHAGE A scavenger feeding on animal carcasses (not prey).

NETWORK A complex pattern of repeatedly connecting passages in a cave.

NIFE CELL A rechargeable alkaline battery for use with an electric cap lamp.

NORTHING (1) The distance of a point north of the point of origin of the grid of a map, or some abbreviation of it. (2) The south-north component of a survey leg, or of a series of legs, or of a complete traverse; north is positive and south is negative.

NOTHEPHREATIC Referring to water moving slowly in cavities in the phreatic zone.

NUMBERING Assigning an alphanumeric index to a cave entrance.

OPEN TRAVERSE A traverse which does not close onto a survey point of known co-ordinates and orientation or onto itself.

ORIENTATION The relationship of a survey line to true, grid or magnetic north.

OUTFLOW CAVE A cave from which a stream flows or formerly did so and which cannot be followed upstream to the surface.

PALAEOKARST "Fossil" karst - cave or karst features remnant from a previous period of karstification, characterised by the presence of ancient (buried) deposits, as lithified cave fills or breccias.

PASSAGE A cavity which is much longer than it is wide or high and may join larger cavities.

PARIETAL(ASSOCIATION) Animals found on walls around cave entrances.

PENDANT Syn. rock pendant.

PENDULITE A kind of stalactite which has been partly submerged and the submerged part covered with dog-tooth spar to give the appearance of a drumstick.

PERCOLATION WATER Water moving mainly downwards through pores, cracks and tight fissures in the vadose zone.

PERMEABILITY The property of rock or soil permitting water to pass through it. Primary permeability depends on interconnecting pores between the grains of the material. Secondary permeability depends on solutional widening of joints and bedding planes and on other solution cavities in the rock.

PHREAS Syn. phreatic zone.

PHREATIC WATER Water below the level at which all voids in the rock are completely filled with water.

PHREATIC ZONE Zone where voids in the rock are completely filled with water.

PHREATOBIA An animal association found in water separating grains of sand or fine gravel.

PILLAR A bedrock column from roof to floor left by removal of surrounding rock.

PIPE A tubular cavity projecting as much as several metres down from the surface into karst rocks and often filled with earth, sand, gravel, breccia, etc.

PITCH A vertical or nearly vertical part of a cave for which ladders or ropes are normally used for descent or ascent.

PITON A solid or folded metal spike, of steel or other alloy, to be driven into a crack in the rock to form an anchor.

PLAN A plot of the shape and details of a cave projected vertically onto a horizontal plane at a reduced scale.

PLUNGE POOL A swirlhole, generally of large size, occurring at the foot of a waterfall or rapid, on the surface or underground.

POLJE A large closed depression draining underground, witha flat floor across which there may be an intermittent or perennial stream and which may be liable to flood and become a lake. The floor makes a sharp break with parts of surrounding slopes.

POLYGONAL KARST Karst completely pitted by closed depressions so that divides between them form a crudely polygonal network.

POOL DEPOSIT (1) Any sediment which accumulated in a pool in a cave. (2) Crystalline deposits precipitated in a cave pool, usually of crystalline shape as well as structure.

POPULATION Individuals of a species in a given locality which potentially form a single interbreeding group separated by physical barriers from other such populations (e.g. populations of the same species in two quite separate caves).

POROSITY The property of rock or soil of having small voids between the constituent particles. The voids may not interconnect.

POT (-HOLE) A vertical or nearly vertical shaft or chimney open to the surface.

PREDATOR An animal which captures other animals for its food.

PRISMATIC COMPASS A compass with a prism attached so that the compass card can be read at the same time as the compass is directed into the line of sight to a distance point.

PROJECTED SECTION The result of projecting a section composed of several parts with differing directions onto a single plane. Usually the plane is vertical along the general trend of the cave. The horizontal distance apart of points is not correct, only the vertical, so that slopes are distorted.

PRUSIK KNOT A friction knot which will slide along the rope when no weight is applied but grips when a pull is exerted on it. Used for ascending ropes.

PRUSIK SLING A sling fastened by a prusik knot to the rope.

PRUSIKING Ascent on a rope using prusik knots or ascenders.

PSEUDOKARST Terrain with landforms which resemble those of karst but which are not the product of karst processes.

RAPPEL Syn. abseil.

RAPPEL RACK A descender consisting of a frame mounting 5 or 6 brake bars.

REBELAY The reanchoring of a rope, usually to avoid rub points or split long pitches. REDIRECTION Syn. deviation

RELICT KARST Old cave forms produced by earlier geomorphic processes within the present cycle of karstification and open to modification by present day processes such as deposition of speleothems, sediments or skeletal deposits.

RESURGENCE A spring where a stream, which has a course on the surface higher up, reappears at the surface.

RHODAMINE A red organic dye which gives a red fluorescence to water. Detectable in very dilute solutions so used in water tracing and dye gauging.

RIFT A long, narrow, high and straight cave passage controlled by planes of weakness in the rock. Cf. fissure.

RIGGING The process of establishing the belays for SRT or laddering.

RIMSTONE A deposit formed by precipitation from water flowing over the rim of a pool.

RIMSTONE DAM A ridge or rib of rimstone, often curved convexly downstream.

RIMSTONE POOL A pool held up by a rimstone dam.

RISING Syn. spring.

ROCK PENDANT A smooth-surfaced projection from the roof of a cave due to solution. Usually in groups.

ROCK SHELTER A cave with a more or less level floor reaching only a short way into a hillside or under a fallen block so that no part is beyond daylight.

ROCKHOLE A shallow, small hole in rock outcrops, often rounded in form and holding water after rains. Well known on the Nullarbor Plain.

ROCKPILE A heap of blocks in a cave, roughly conical or part-conical in shape.

ROOF CRUST Thin speleothem on cave precipitated from water films exuding from pores or cracks.

ROOM A wider part of a cave than a passage but not as large as a chamber.

ROPE PROTECTOR A length of heavy fabric or plastic hose placed around a rope where it may rub against rock.

SAFETY LINE A safety rope attached to a caver climbing on a ladder or negotiating a difficult situation and held by a man above.

SALT WEATHERING Detachment of particles of various sizes from a rock surface by the growth of crystals from salt solutions. Forms substantial features in Nullarbor Plain caves.

SAPROPHAGE A scavenger feeding on decaying organic material.

SATURATED (1) Referring to rock with water-filled voids. (2) Referring to water which has dissolved as much limestone or other karst rock as it can under normal conditions.

SCALE The ratio of the length between any two points on a map, plan or section to the actual distance between the same points on the ground or in a cave.

SCALING POLES A lightweight metal alloy pole, in short sections for transport and fastened together where used, to raise a ladder to points inaccessible by climbing.

SCALLOPS Current markings that intersect to form points which are directed downstream.

SCAVENGER An animal that eats dead remains and wastes of other animals and plants (cf. coprophage, necrophage, saprophage).

SEA CAVE A cave in present-day or emerged sea cliffs, formed by wave attack or solution.

SECTION A plot of the shape and details of a cave in a particular intersecting plane, called the section plane, which is usually vertical.

SEDIMENT Material recently deposited by water, ice or wind, or precipitated from water.

SEEPAGE WATER Syn. percolation water.

SELENITE A crystalline form of gypsum.

SHAFT A vertical cavity roughly equal in horizontal dimensions but much deeper than broad. Wider than a chimney.

SHAWL A simple triangular shaped curtain.

SHOW CAVE A cave that has been made accessible to the public for guided visits.

SINGLE ROPE TECHNIQUE The practice of climbing up and down ropes with the help of ascenders and descenders. Abb. = SRT.

SIPHON A waterfilled passage of inverted U-profile which delivers a flow of water whenever the head of water upstream rises above the top of the inverted U.

SLING A joined loop of rope or tape.

SOLUTION In karst study, the change of bedrock from the solid state to the liquid state by combination with water. In physical solution the ions of the rock go directly into solution without transformation. In chemical solution acids take part, especially the weak acid formed by carbon dioxide (CO2).

SOLUTION FLUTE A solution hollow running down the maximum slope of the rock, of uniform fingertip width and depth, with sharp ribs between it and its neighbours.

SOLUTION PAN A dish-shaped depression on flattish rock; its sides may overhang and carry solution flutes. Its bottom may have a cover of organic remains, silt, clay or rock fragments.

SOLUTION RUNNEL A solution hollow running down the maximum slope of the rock, larger than a solution flute and increasing in depth and width down its length. Thick ribs between neighbouring runnels may be sharp and carry solution flutes.

SPECIES A group of actually or potentially interbreeding populations which is reproductively isolated from other such groups by their biology, not simply by physical barriers.

SPELEOGEN A cave feature formed erosionally or by weathering in cave enlargement such as current markings or rock pendants.

SPELEOLOGY The exploration, description and scientific study of caves and related phenomena.

SPELEOTHEM A secondary mineral deposit formed in caves, most commonly calcite.

SPLASH CUP A shallow cavity in the top of a stalagmite.

SPONGEWORK A complex of irregular, inter-connecting cavities intricately perforating the rock. The cavities may range from a few centimetres to more than a metre across.

SPRING A natural flow of water from rock or soil onto the land surface or into a body of surface water.

SQUEEZE An opening in a cave only passable with effort because of its small dimensions. Cf. flattener, crawl (way).

STALACTITE A speleothem hanging downwards from a roof or wall, of cylindrical or conical form, usually with a central hollow tube.

STALAGMITE A speleothem projecting vertically upwards from a cave floor and formed by precipitation from drips.

STATION A survey point in a chain of such points in a survey.

STEEPHEAD A steep-sided valley in karst, generally short, ending abruptly upstream where a stream emerges or formerly did so.

STEGAMITE A speleothem projecting upwards from a cave floor in the form of a calcite ridge. A medial crack appears along the top of the ridge where water is thought to be forced from the speleothem under capillary action.

STRAW (STALACTITE) A long, thin-walled tubular stalactite less than about 1cm in diameter.

STREAMSINK A point at which a surface stream disappears underground.

STRIKE The direction of a horizontal line in a bedding plane in rocks inclined from the horizontal. On level ground it is the direction of outcrop of inclined beds.

STYLOLITE Suture in rock formed where pressure solution has taken place, often leaving a thin lamina of insoluble material along it.

SUBJACENT KARST Karst developed in soluble beds underlying other rock formations; the surface may or may not be affected by the karst development.

SUMP A point in a cave passage when the water meets the roof.

SUPERSATURATED Referring to water that has more limestone or other karst rock in solution than the maximum corresponding to normal conditions.

SURVEY In caving, the measurement of directions and distances between survey points and of cave details from them, and the plotting of cave plans and sections from these measurements either graphically or after computation of co-ordinates.

SUUNTO CLINOMETER A small, handheld pendulum clinometer commonly used in cave survey.

SUUNTO COMPASS A small, handheld sighting compass commonly used in cave survey.

SWIRLHOLE A hole in rock in a streambed eroded by eddying water, with or without sand or pebble tools.

SYNGENETIC KARST Karst developed in eolian calcarenite when the development of karst features has taken place at the same time as the lithification of dune sand.

TAGGING Affixing a metal tag bearing a cave number near its entrance, normally by means of rock drill and a small nail.

TAFONI Roughly hemispherical hollows weathered in rock either at the surface or in caves.

TAPE (1) In survey, a graduated tape of steel, plastic, wire-reinforced cloth, or fibreglass, used for measuring distance. (2) Strips of woven synthetic fibre used for slings and waist bands.

TERRA ROSSA Reddish residual clay soil developed on limestone.

THREADi A natural hole through a rope, tape or wire can be passed to create an anchor.

THRESHOLD (1) That part of a cave near the entrance where surface climatic conditions rapidly grade into cave climatic conditions. Not necessarily identical with twilight zone. (2) Slope or cliff facing up a blind or half-blind valley below a present or former streamsink.

THROUGH CAVE A cave which may be followed from entrance to exit along a stream course or along a passage which formerly carried a stream.

TOPOFIL A mechanical cave survey device that uses a roll of thread and a distance counter, a protractor to measure inclination and a compass to measure the bearing.

TOWERKARST Conekarst in which the residual hills have very steep to overhanging lower slopes. There my be alluvial plains between the towers and flat-floored depressions within them.

TRACE A short length of wire with fasteners used for attaching ladders and ropes to an anchor.

TRACER (1) A material introduced into surface or underground water where it disappears or into soil to determine drainage interconnections and travel time. (2) A material introduced into cave air to determine cave interconnections.

TRAVERSE (1) The commonest form of cave survey in which direction, distance and vertical angle between successive points are measured. (2) A way along ledges above the floor of a cave. (3) To move along such a way.

TRAVERTINE Compact calcium carbonate deposit, often banded, precipitated from spring, river or lake water. Cf. tufa.

TRI-CAM A metalic device placed in holes or cracks for use as an anchor Cf. chock


TROGLOBITE A cavernicole unable to live outside the cave environment.

TROGLODYTE A human cave dweller.

TROGLOPHILE A cavernicole which frequently completes its life cycle in caves but is not confined to this habitat.

TROGLOXENE A cavernicole which spends only part of its life cycle in caves and returns periodically to the epigean domain for food.

TRUE NORTH The direction of the geographical north pole at a place.

TUBE A cave passage of smooth surface, and elliptical or nearly circular in cross-section.

TUFA Spongy or vesicular calcium carbonate deposited from spring, river or lake waters. Cf. travertine.

TUNNEL A nearly horizontal cave open at both ends, fairly straight and uniform in cross-section.

TWILIGHT ZONE The part of a cave to which daylight penetrates.

UVALA A complex closed depression with several lesser depressions within its rim.

VADOSE FLOW Water flowing in free-surface streams in caves.

VADOSE SEEPAGE Syn. percolation water.

VADOSE WATER Water in the vadose zone.

VADOSE ZONE The zone where voids in the rock are partly filled with air and through which water descends under gravity.

VAUCLUSIAN SPRING A spring rising up a deep, steeply-inclined, water-filled passage into a small surface pool.

VERMICULATION Pattern of thin, worm-shaped coatings of clay or silt on cave surfaces.

VERTICAL ANGLE The angle in a vertical plane between a line of sight and the horizontal, positive above the horizontal and negative below.

WATER TRACING Determination of water connection between points of stream disappearance or of soil water seepage and points of reappearance on the surface or underground.

WATERTABLE The surface between phreatic water which completely fills voids in the rock, and ground air, which partially fills higher voids.

WATERTRAP A place where a cave roof dips under water but lifts above it farther on. Cf. duck (-under).

WELL A deep rounded hole in a cave floor or on the surfacein karst.

WET SUIT A diving garment of foam neoprene designed to insulate the diver from the cold but which allows a thin film of water to penetrate between the suit and the body.

WHALETAIL A descender consisting of an aluminium block with slots, knobs and a safety gate.

WINDOW An irregular opening through a thin rock wall in a cave.


Copyright Notice

Additions by Rauleigh Webb 1995,1996
As published in Australian Karst Index 1985
First published in ASF Newsletter 83 (1979)
Replaces list in Speleo Handbook(1968)

Copyright (c) Australian Speleological Federation.
This document may be freely copied provided that this copyright notice remains with the document.

This list of terms is substantially longer than that included in Speleo Handbook (1968). The increase reflects the greater depth and breadth of interest of Australian speleologists in caves and their surroundings. It remains a highly selective list of terms recommended for use in particular ways by Australians and it does not purport to gather comprehensively actual usage, good, bad and indifferent. For more complete collections of terms the following publications are the most useful:

W.H. Monroe 1970 A Glossary of Karst Terminology. U.S. Geological

Survey Water Supply Paper 1899K. H. Trimmel 1965 Speläologisches Fachwörterbuch. Third

International Speleological Congress. Vol. C. P. Fénelon 1968 Vocabulaire français des phénomènes karstiques. Mémoirs et Documents du Centre Documentaire Cartographique et Géographique, 4: 193-282.

C.A. Hill 1976 Cave Minerals. National Speleological Society, Huntsville.

English equivalents of foreign terms have been preferred except where the latter have long-established and agreed usage or where there is no precise counterpart in English. Amongst English words, simple Anglo-Saxon words are preferred to new inventions from Greek and Latin roots. Some terms which have markedly conflicting and confusing usages either within Australia or abroad or between Australia and abroad are omitted as the best deterrent to their further employment here. A very few terms not yet in common use have been introduced where these offer the opportunity of avoiding conflicting usages of other words which need to be retained despite this. A preliminary list was circulated to the ASF clubs and to a number of individuals for comment. The final list reflects very much suggestions from and discussions with the following:


It must not be thought, however, that these helpers agree with the composition of the list or with every definition. Nor in a sense do I since I have allowed my own opinion to be overruled in many cases, though I have dug my toes in over some. No selection will please everybody, still less the meanings given to those chosen, but to assemble all terms and usages would not only result in a volume to itself but might confuse more cavers than it would assist.

Originally published in 1994 "Australian Caver" No. 136, Pages 6-8, Revised for the 1997 ASF conference Quorn S.A.
Written by Garry K. Smith ©
Member of "Newcastle and Hunter Valley Speleological Society".

Around the world, hundreds of thousands of people each year are affected by a fungal infection called Histoplasmosis. In many areas of South America, Asia, Europe, Africa and East Central United States, the disease has been found in the droppings of domestic birds, such as fowls as well as starlings and other birds which often nest around houses. To humans this microscopic fungus is potentially fatal if the infection is not treated.

At this stage you are probably saying to yourself, "what has this to do with caving".?

Evidence exists that the fungus Histoplasma capulatum grows in guano, (bat droppings) and that it may be spread by bats flying from one roost cave to another. The fungus can survive in the intestinal contents of bats as well as transmitted to other locations by wind. To date the fungus has been detected in some caves inhabited by the Bent Wing Bat (Miniopterus schreibersii blepotis) however there is no conclusive evidence that it is confined to guano of this bat species.

Other names for this disease include:- "Histo", "cave disease", "cave fever", "Darling's disease", "Ohio Valley disease, "Tingo Maria fever", "reticuloendotheliosis" and "reticuloendothelial cytomycosis".

Habitat of the Fungus.

Histoplasma capulatum is an organism which grows in soil containing a high nitrogen content, generally associated with guano of birds and bats.

The fungus reproduces by releasing spore of 2 to 5 micron in size, to the air. Ideal conditions for this to occur is in caves with high humidity (ie 67% to 87% or more), temperatures of around 20 to 29 degrees C and the presence of dry guano. Many overseas reports have recorded high concentrations of the fungus in guano around poultry sheds. In "open" environments the occurrence of the fungus is generally restricted to between latitudes 45 degrees N and 45 degrees S. Outside of this tropical zone, concentrations of the fungus is restricted to appropriate environmental conditions which can occur in "closed" environments such as caves. This is due to the stable conditions which exist inside caves, where as the surrounding countryside may be too dry or cold for sustained proliferation.

Effect on the Human Body

Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection which can affect the whole body and is caused by inhalation of an aerosol of soil, dust or guano which contains fungal spore. When the airborne spore is breathed in by cavers it may infect the lungs. The degree of infection in humans varies widely, depending on the individual's immune status and degree of exposure to the fungal spores.

In most cases the spore are introduced in such a quantity as to produce a mild form of the disease and thus builds up the bodies immunity to the fungus. This form of infection is referred to as Asymptomatic and the infected person experiences no noticeable symptoms.

When a person is subjected to high exposure, some spore reach the alveoli and begin to germinate. Conversion to an invasive yeast phase takes place, and multiplication occurs by binary fission.

The second form of infection is Acute Pulmonary Histoplasmosis. Symptoms may occur two to three weeks after infection and include a general feeling of being unwell as if suffering a mild influenza with a raised temperature, malaise or tiredness and pleuritic chest pain. In most cases the person with a mild infection quickly recovers with no treatment.

The more severe third form of infection is called Chronic Pulmonary Histoplasmosis. The condition of persons with high exposure and/or low immunity to the fungus, may quickly deteriorate to include fever, night sweating, headaches, shortness of breath, lack of energy, muscular aching, weight loss, dry coughing and severe pain around the lungs. If untreated, the lungs continue to be slowly destroyed and death can occur months or years later from bacterial pneumonia or heart failure.

The most severe form of infection is called Acute Disseminated Histoplasmosis and the yeasts are spread throughout the body via the blood stream.

Overseas statistics show that in a small percentage of cases the disease may disseminate and infect the lymph glands, liver, spleen and other vital organs, resulting in fever and weight loss. Chronic respiratory infections resemble chronic pulmonary tuberculosis. The disease progresses over a period of months to years, possibly with periods of remission. This form is more common in males over 40 and often results in death. Symptoms at the chronic stage may vary, depending on the organs involved. Unexplained fever, anaemia, heart inflammation, meningitis, pneumonia and mucosal ulceration of the mouth, bowel or stomach may be seen. The infection is not transmitted from person to person and there is no immunization presently available.

It may be of interest that Histoplasmosis is not only confined to humans, as other animals such as dogs, cats, rats and foxes are also susceptible to infection.

Occurrences in Australia.

Prior to 1972 in Australia, the disease had only been identified on several occasions. In none of these cases was the infectious environment conclusively linked with bats. However between 1972 and 1976 a large percentage of cavers who visited Church Cave (WJ-31) at Wee Jasper contracted histoplasmosis.

This sparked a spare time study by Applied Science lecturers and students at the Riverina College of Advanced Education, Wagga Wagga to isolate the source of the fungus. On many occasions the researchers wearing respirators designed for poisonous pesticide sprays entered the cave to collect samples of cave air and guano from the deep layered deposits. Despite wearing respirators, three out of the eight researchers contracted lung infections. The investigation continued, however it wasn't until 1983 that the fungus was grown in laboratory cultures from samples of guano, soil, respirator filters and phlegm taken from the last of the histoplasmosis sufferers.

In November 1993 a group of 12 cavers undertook exploration of the Glenrock Caves located 120 Km north-east of Muswellbrook. Sixteen days after entering the caves, one of the cavers was admitted to the John Hunter Hospital (Newcastle, N.S.W) and diagnosed as suffering from histoplasmosis. The exact origin of the infection has not been positively identified, however there is a strong possibility that the fungal spore originated in the Glenrock Cave called "Bats and Bandicoots" (GR-43). This cave contained large quantities of bat guano and has a cave climate suitable for the fungus' propagation. During exploration the cave temperature was uncomfortably hot and the guano was noticed to be dry and powdery.

There were six cavers who entered GR43 in November 93. Only one came down with the infection. The person involved suffered a lot of pain and discomfort from the infection, which has permanently damaged a large section of his lungs. He spent 12 days in hospital and has incurred large medical bills, endured considerable inconvenience during medical tests and lost lots of work time. This makes Histoplasmosis an infection not to be dismissed lightly with the old saying "it can't happen to me".

Hills Speleological Club Ltd. have published a comprehensive guide to the Caves of Glenrock. Between 1983 and 1987 they collected data and mapped the 108 caves in the area. This involved hundreds, possibly thousands of man-hours underground. I believe there were no reported cases of histoplasmosis even though the cave in question has been mapped and explored on several occasions.

Since these are not the only breeding caves for the Bent Wing Bats and no concrete evidence exists that they are the only species of bat to carry the disease, there is still the possibility for further outbreaks to occur in the future. Fortunately to date the occurrence of this disease in Australia is rare considering the numbers of people who enter caves containing bats each year. Rippon (1974) states, "Not all guano appears to serve equally well as a substrate", which might explain why the fungus to date, has not been isolated in guano of other Australian bats.


There are several methods to diagnose the disease.

1. Involves laboratory examination of body tissue or fluids, often sputum or scrapings of lesions.

2. Histopathologic examination of several tissues such as bone marrow, liver, spleen and lung, stained with special fungal stain.

3. Tissue culture isolation of the fungus from sputum, blood, bone marrow, biopsy tissue, lesion scrapings or other body tissue and fluids.

4. Serologic tests may be used.

5. Histoplasmosis skin test is primarily an epidemiologic tool to define endemic areas. Its diagnostic value is limited as it does not distinguish between past and present infection, and non-specific reactions can result in false positives. (In 1972 around 100 speleologists were tested and approximately 30% returned a positive result).

6. Although not a conclusive diagnostic tool, a chest X-ray of severe cases will show many abnormal shadows in the lungs.

Previous severe infections may be noted on a chest X-ray film as small, scattered, radio-dense nodules in the lungs, mediastinal lymph nodes, and spleen.


Most cases recover without any specific treatment. However even mild symptoms should be treated seriously as chronic infections may develop and result in damage to internal organs or in extreme cases death.

Benign localised lung infections should be treated, if necessary with bedrest and symptomatic care. In severe cases of histoplasmosis, the antibiotic of choice is intravenously administered Amphotericin B.

It should be noted that HIV positive sufferers have little chance of overcoming this fungal infection if contracted.


If you have already visited a cave which contains dry dusty bat Guano, you have probably exposed yourself to the fungal spore. The more dust stirred up increases the chance of greater exposure and infection. Severity of infection may vary, depending on the degree of exposure and your state of immunity. Bear in mind that the disease may recur in later life once infected. Cavers should not become paranoid about Histoplasmosis, but moreover they should be aware of the possibility of infection and able to recognize the signs to assist in early diagnosis. Caves with wet or damp guano have greatly diminished chance of causing infection. If you must enter a cave with high humidity and dry guano, a good fitting fine dust mask may reduce (but not eliminate) the chances of infection, provided special care is taken to remove and dispose of contaminated clothes and wash hair before removing mask. If you suffer any Histoplasmosis symptoms after visiting a bat cave, see your doctor without delay. Make special reference to the possibility of Histoplasmosis and that it has common symptoms to tuberculosis (TB). Prompt action could save your life. The best prevention is to avoiding known sites of exposure.


Benenson, A.S. (1980), "Control of Communicable Diseases in Man". 13th Edition, Pages 173 to 175.

Donham, K.J. (1983) Article on Histoplasmosis "Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety" Third (Revised) Edition. Published by the International Labour Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland. Pages 1046, 1047 and 1422.

Kern, M.E. (1985) "Medical Mycology". Histoplasma Capsulatum, Serologic tests to diagnose, cultures of, microscopic appearance of, tissue and yeast phase Pages 83, 193, 196, 199, and 217.

Lewis, W.C. MD. (1969) "Report on Histoplasmosis in Aguas Buenas Caves" Reprint in OOLITE Vol. 4, No. 2, November 1972.

Pearson, T. (1985), "Histoplasmosis" Article in "The Calcite Chronicle", February 1985. Original name for publication of the Newcastle & Hunter Valley Speleo. Society.

Rippon, J.W, (1974), "Medical Mycology, The Pathogenic Fungi and The Pathogenic Actinomycetes" Printed by W.B. Saunders Co. "Histoplasmosis", chapter 16, Pages 321 to 347.

Sackie, Dr. (1989), "Holy Bat Shit, Batman!" Article on diseases carried by bats. Printed in FUSSI Vol 1. No.2, Journal of the Flinders University Speleological Society. Adelaide.

Underhill, D. (1987), "Australia's Dangerous Creatures" chapter titled "Beware The Air In Bat Caves" Pages 323 and 324

Whitten, W.K, (1992), "Reflections on Cave Chest Clinics & Histoplasma Capsulatum: a case study", Article in the Journal Occup. Health Safety - Aust NZ 1992, 8(6): Pages 535-541.

World Book Encyclopedia (1992). Page 221.

Family Medical Encyclopedia, (1989). Published by the Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. London. Page 173.

Articles on Histoplasmosis at Church Cave Wee Jasper, in the Sydney Morning Herald of 19th and 21st October 1972.

Articles on Histoplasmosis from bat infested cave, in the Sydney Sun, 18th October 1972,

Comments are most welcome.

By Garry K. Smith

As presented at the 24th Biennial Conference of the Australian Speleological Federation, Jan 2003, Bunbury WA.
Also published in the proceedings.


The terms “Pink Puffers” and “Blue Bloaters” have been around for many years. They are used in a colloquial sense by speleologists to describe how cavers react to an elevated concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) and reduced oxygen (O2) in a cave’s “foul air” atmosphere. Foul air is only found in a small number of Australian caves and is defined as having a noticeable abnormal physiological effect on humans. Pink Puffers hyperventilate when exposed to foul air while Blue Bloaters are slow to react and run the risk of losing consciousness without warning.

This paper compares these colloquial terms with the same terminology used by some doctors to describe patients with medical conditions related to Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COAD). Pink Puffers hyperventilate and have good colour, while Blue Bloaters do not hyperventilate and look bluish because they are starved of oxygen. This is where the similarity in definitions ends. In the caving fraternity the term refers to a speleologist’s respiratory reaction to one of three types of foul air in a cave whereas in medical terminology it refers to a COAD patient’s specific condition and how their body functions in good air.

Also discussed are possible links between smokers and ex-smokers with early stages of COAD (not yet causing noticeable disability in good air) who go underground and when subjected to foul air become speleologist blue bloaters. Two possible scenarios are put forward for discussion, which could form the basis of a future research project for someone with access to lung function measurements equipment.


The terms “Pink Puffer” and “Blue Bloater,” have been around for many years, but do we really know what they mean and how serious it can be for a person entering a cave containing the so called “foul air”? In the caving fraternity the terms are used colloquially to describe the physiological effect on a person exposed to foul air containing an elevated concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) and reduced oxygen (O2). However, within the medical fraternity the terms are used to describe patients with medical conditions related to Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COAD). The meaning and use of these terms is examined in both a speleological and medical aspect. Also a possible link between smoking and the speleologist blue bloater is discussed.

What is foul air?

Foul air, sometimes called “Bad Air”, is an atmosphere which has a noticeable abnormal physiological effect on humans. (Smith 1999a). In limestone caves, foul air can be described as containing greater than 0.5% carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or lower than 18% oxygen (O2) by volume. As a comparison, normal air contains approximately 0.03% CO2 and 21% O2 by volume (Smith 1999b). Foul air is only present in a small number of caves around Australia. When encountered, it generally occurs as an elevated concentration of CO2 and a reduced concentration of O2. Either elevated CO2 or reduced O2 or a combination of the two can be life threatening (Smith 1997c). A high CO2 concentration is the most life threatening situation encountered underground while life threatening low O2 concentration is rarely encountered (Smith 1999b).

  • Type 1 foul air results from the introduction of CO2 into the cave atmosphere and all other components mainly O2 and nitrogen (N2) are diluted - the source of the CO2 is immaterial.
  • Type 2 foul air is the result of O2 being depleted and replaced with the CO2 by-product of organic and micro-organism metabolism or respiration by fauna such as bats or humans. In this instance the O2 concentration is reduced in proportion to the increase in CO2. The N2 concentration stays constant.
  • Type 3 foul air occurs with the introduction of methane and nitrogen production and the non-respiratory uptake of O2 as well as CO2 stripping by water. Also falling into Halbert’s third type is an atmosphere which results from a combination of Types 1 & 2 with addition of another mechanism, which alters the gas concentrations.

Origin of the terms in speleology

James and Dyson (1981) were probably the first to document the terms “pink puffer and blue bloater” in a speleological sense. They reported observing the responses of two types of individual exposed to foul air containing a high concentration of CO2. Most cavers respond by hyperventilating and with some degree of blood vessel dilation near the skin, which results in a pinkish complexion. Dubbed the pink puffers, this description fits the overwhelming majority of cavers. A very small minority have a greatly reduced response to high CO2. Because they do not hyperventilate their oxygen level in the lungs and blood is reduced, thus giving a slight bluish tinge to their skin. Dubbed the Blue Bloaters, these people have a greatly increased chance of passing out. Therefore “a known blue bloater should never enter a region of CO2 without the warning companionship of a pink puffer” (James and Dyson 1981).

James and Dyson used these terms in the speleological arena because the outward physiological effect on cavers exposed to foul air often matched those of medical patients suffering COAD. The terms, pink puffer and blue bloater, were certainly in use by anaesthetists and respiratorists for some time prior to the publishing of James and Dyson’s 1981 paper. For example, an article titled “Blue Bloater: Pink Puffer” was published in the British Medical Journal in 1968 and refers to the terms first being used around 1958. (Anon 1968).

Foul air effects on humans

To understand why cavers can be categorised as either a pink puffers or blue bloaters, one must look more closely at the physiological effects on a person exposed to foul air of varying CO2 and O2 concentrations. Indications are that a person’s degree of reaction to foul air, is closely linked to the gas which is their primary regulator of breathing and heart rate. Bearing in mind that “a high CO2 concentration is the most life threatening situation encountered underground while a life threatening low O2 concentration is rarely encountered” (Smith, 1999b). Hence the warning by James and Dyson (1981), that a blue bloater should never enter a region of CO2 without the warning companionship of a pink puffer needs to be reinforced.

Our respiratory system needs to work harder for us to cope with foul air. The red cell haemoglobin in our blood, transports O2 and CO2 between the lung and body cells by the blood circulation. The exchange of the two gases takes place in the lungs by diffusion across the walls of the air sacs (alveoli). Oxygen from inspired air diffuses across the lining of the air sacs and enters the blood, while CO2 moves in the opposite direction. Diffusion occurs because a gas in high concentration will move to an area of relatively low concentration, until an equilibrium is reached. Breathing in foul air with an elevated CO2, reduces the ability of the body to get rid of its waste CO2 to the exhaled air. This causes an elevated CO2 concentration in the blood, resulting in acidemia, in which the body tries to counteract by initiating a number of secondary mechanisms in an attempt to return the pH toward normal (Smith 1997a,b).

In simplified terms, if the inhaled foul air contains a relatively high concentration of CO2 the haemoglobin is unable to get rid of the body’s waste CO2, thus the haemoglobin is not free to take on fresh O2. Exposure to a high concentration of CO2 can result in respiratory acidosis, coma, asphyxiation and death.

Pink puffers from a speleo perspective

Most cavers react quickly by hyperventilating, when exposed to foul air containing an elevated CO2 concentration. They also take on a pinkish complexion due to some degree of blood vessel dilation (cutaneous vasodilatation) near the skin. Other symptoms include headaches, clumsiness, fatigue, anxiety and loss of energy. Amongst the speleological fraternity these people are colloquially known as “pink puffers”.

This reaction is considered “normal” amongst the human population and can be explained by a well known medical fact that most humans rely on CO2 as their body’s primary trigger to regulate breathing and heart rate. Nerve receptors in the aorta near the heart and in the carotid artery, which goes to the brain, monitor any rise in blood CO2 and the brain’s control centre reacts by accelerating the breathing and heart rates. In effect the body is trying to reduce the blood CO2 and take in more O2 through gas exchange in the lungs. Changes in blood O2 are also monitored, but the receptors are not as sensitive to changes in O2 as to CO2. Hence the secondary trigger for regulating breathing and heart function is a lack of O2 which is detected by sensors in the carotid arteries and aorta arch lining near the heart.

Blue bloaters from a speleo’s perspective

Blue bloaters, on the other hand, do not respond to elevated concentrations of CO2 as quickly as pink puffers. By not hyperventilating, the oxygen level in their lungs and blood is reduced. This causes cyanosis (reduced O2 in blood), thus giving a slight bluish tinge to their skin. These people have a greatly increased chance of losing consciousness without warning.

It is medically recognised, that for a small percentage of the human population, their primary trigger for regulating breathing and heart rates, is reduced O2 in the blood.

Medical references to pink puffer and blue bloater

Doctors and scientists have written many research papers on the subject of Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COAD) which over time has been known by a number of other names, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Chronic Airflow Limitation (CAL), Chronic Airways Disease (CAD) and Obstructive Airways Disease (OAD)

Medical patients with COAD clinically cover a wide spectrum and those extremes have become known as pink puffers and blue bloaters. Two components of COAD are emphysema1 and chronic bronchitis2. When these diseases are examined in their relatively pure form, each has its own striking patient characteristics of body build, general appearance and underlying disordered physiologic condition. That is, pink puffers are emphysema patients and blue bloaters are chronic bronchitis patients (Mandavia and Dailey 1993). However, Voelkel (2000) stresses that “while COPD patients are viewed traditionally as being either blue bloaters or pink puffers, guidelines have made efforts to stress that many patients will fall into neither group”.

Medical papers often quote significantly different figures as to the proportion of COAD sufferers in a given population. For example, Duffy (2000) quotes about 5% of the United States population are COAD sufferers, while Hunter et al (2001) quote approximately 20%. Mandavia and Dailey (1993) quote COPD as effecting more than 25% of all adults in the USA. These vastly different figures reflect the conflicts of definition between doctors and authorities.

Pink puffers and blue bloaters from a medical perspective

Pink puffers are patients with COPD where the pathology is widespread emphysema1. Their main symptom is breathlessness which is progressive, because their blood gases are relatively normal, their skin is of good colour and in the case of Caucasians, has a pink colour. They are of thin build and have evidence of airways obstruction with a reduced exhaling capacity - forced expired volume in one second (FEV1). Their chests are over inflated (hyperinflated) due to air trapping and the diffusing capacity of the lungs for carbon monoxide (DLco)3 is reduced. A disease of the heart (cor pulmonale)4 is unusual and when it occurs is usually late in the disease. (West 1977, DeMarco et al 1981).

On the other hand, blue bloaters have mostly a severe bronchitis2 with some emphysema1. They are overweight and have a chronic cough with sputum (sometimes purulent). They have an elevated carbon dioxide and low oxygen in the blood. There is severe airway obstruction with a reduced FEV1. Lung volumes and DLco may be normal. The patients have a plethoric5 appearance due to polycythaemia (an increase in the number of red cells due to chronic hypoxia6), and are cyanosed (blue) because of low blood oxygen. Chronic hypoxia causes the pulmonary blood vessels in these patients to constrict so that the right side of the heart has to pump much harder. This is worsened by the thickening of the blood (polycythaemia) and leads to thickening of the muscle in the right side of the heart (cor pulmonale) with subsequent failure and fluid retention. These changes occur relatively early in the disease and give the blue bloater appearance. Patients usually respond very well to correcting the hypoxia with long term oxygen therapy (West 1977).


Figure 1. Blue Bloater - chronic bronchitis.


Figure 2. Pink Puffer – emphysema

Figures 1 & 2. Reproduced from a paper titled ‘Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease’ by Mandavia and Dailey (1993)

Validity of these terms in today’s medical profession

The outward appearance of the patient is an interesting aspect to scrutinise. Certainly the subtle difference in skin colour (pink), may be true for persons of white Caucasian background, but would be less discernible for persons of dark coloured skin. If we just consider this aspect, one could speculate that the terms originated from within the Caucasian medical profession.

The “Puffer” term certainly refers to the fact that the patient is hyperventilating. The “Bloater” term may be interpreted as being swollen or enlarged and is referring to the physical appearance (obesity) of the patient.

The medical profession has traditionally viewed patients with COAD as being either blue bloaters or pink puffers, however more recent guidelines stress that most patients will not fall into either category. The COAD medical condition now covers such a wide spectrum in relation to the traditional terms which only describes patients at the extremes of COAD.

Given that today’s society is more attuned to acceptance of a mixed ethnic population and the use of a political correct vocabulary, the medical fraternity is moving away from these terms to categorise COAD patients.

What exactly is COAD?

Howard (1990) gives the following definition:

Chronic irreversible obstructive airways disease is the end result of a number of disorders: airway damage from tobacco smoke, atmospheric pollution and occupational dust and fume, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, bronchial asthma7 and a number of congenital disorders of defective airway defence. The clinical features include sputum, wheezing, breathlessness and infective and noninfective airway inflammation8. The pathological consequences are airways obstruction, emphysema and respiratory failure.

Duffy (2000) states: In clinical practice most emergency physicians use the term more specifically for the conditions of emphysema and chronic bronchitis, tending to view patients with conditions such as asthma7, bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis as different entities, even though the clinical margins are often blurred and treatment options often overlap considerably

In general, medical authorities now use the term COAD to cover all chronic respiratory conditions in which a person has irreversible reduced expiratory airflow. Some medical references also include asthma in the definition of COAD, even though asthma is a reversible airway obstruction.


Diagram by Mandavia and Dailey (1993) which shows that a combination of several illnesses (of varying degrees) may contribute to a patients COAD condition. The shaded circle represents the individual patient


An exacerbation9 can be diagnosed if an increase in breathlessness and/or an increase in sputum are experienced for two or more consecutive days. Other symptoms may include wheezing, sore throat, fever and cough (Thiadens et al 1998).

Voelkel (2000) says it is a commonly perceived myth that COPD is solely a self-inflicted disease of elderly smokers. He highlights that while smoking is a major risk factor for developing COPD, it is not the only cause and a sufferer may not be elderly.

A study undertaken by the Primary Healthcare Centre in the Netherlands (Thiadens et al 1998), cited years of smoking as the major contributor to COPD conditions. Their study of 192 patients aged 18-75 years, who presented themselves to their general practitioner with a cough persisting for at least2 weeks, concluded:

About half ……….. have asthma7 or chronicobstructive pulmonary disease. With a simple formula based onthree symptoms and prolonged expiration, pack years of smoking10,and female sex, most patients may be identified correctly in generalpractice (Thiadens et al 1998).

It is well established that cigarette smoking is the major risk factor with an estimated 10 to 30% developing COPD, however many smokers may not develop clinically significant airflow limitation. Owing to the large pulmonary function reserve, airflow obstructions can progress undetected for many years without the development of overt clinical symptoms of disease. Thus while many patients diagnosed with COPD are elderly, a decline in lung function often can be detected in smokers as young as 40 years of age. COPD is an indolent disease process that only produces symptoms when a considerable loss of the lung function has occurred (Voelkel 2000).

Mulloy et al (1996) studied 19 severe COPD patients and found that the majority desaturated during treadmill exercise, with a fall of greater than 5% saturation of arterial oxygen (SaO2) and that the SaO2 fell twice as much during sleep as during maximal exercise.

Thiadens et al (1998) studied 192 patients who presented to their general medical practice with a persistent cough over two weeks prior to the consultation. Of these 74 were diagnosed with asthma and 14 with COPD.

Breathlessness is of variable severity when the Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV1) falls below 1.0 litre per second resulting in disability ranging from manageable to severe.(Howard 1990)

Breathlessness is a common feature of acute infective exacerbations, but breathlessness during normal every day activity develops insidiously over many years and most patients will have lost more than 50% of their predicted FEV1 by the time that breathlessness becomes a problem. (Voelkel 2000)

Comparing medical pink puffers with blue bloaters

Weight loss is common in patients with long standing disease with predominately emphysema (the Pink Puffer), although weight gain may also be a feature suggesting chronic hypoxemia11 and the onset of cor pulmonale4 (the Blue Bloater).

Johnson et al (1983) say that:

Pink and puffing patients (fighters) are frequently stated to maintain relatively normal blood gas tensions at the expense of breathlessness and are consequently severely disabled, whereas blue and bloated patients (non-fighters) choose to be free of breathlessness and are less disabled, but at the expense of abnormal blood gas tensions and consequent right heart failure (right ventricle failure).

They studied 26 patients (15 pink puffers and 11 blue bloaters) with chronic airflow limitation (with closely matched spirometric values12) to see if the fight to maintain normal blood gases had a noticeable cost in terms of increased disability. Measurements were made of the breathlessness, exercise tolerance, and exercise physiology of the two groups. They found that blue bloaters “chose” to tolerate abnormal blood gas tensions, as they were able to improve the pressure of arterial oxygen (PaO2) and pressure of arterial carbon dioxide (PaCO2) considerably toward normal by voluntary hyperventilation. They failed to find any difference in breathlessness or exercise tolerance between the two groups despite a higher ventilatory response to exercise in the pink puffers. They conclude:

The misconception that the pink puffer patients are more breathless may have arisen from the increased ventilatory response to exercise, so that patients are seen to puff and thus look breathless. It may also reflect differences in way of life, with the pink puffer playing the hare, always rushing at life, in contrast with the tortoise blue bloater, who plods at one pace and never becomes breathless (Johnson et al 1983).

A possible link between smokers and speleological blue bloaters

A few quotes are used here to outline COAD and its links with smoking

Voelkel (2000) states: “smoking is a major risk factor for developing COPD.

Kerstjens (1999), states: “Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is largely preventable. The main cause is exposure to cigarette smoke. Thedisease is rare in lifetime non-smokers.”

Voelkel (2000) comments that: “many smokers may not develop clinically significant airflow limitation…….. Owing to the large pulmonary function reserve, airflow obstructions can progress undetected for many years without the development of overt clinical symptoms of disease.”

Thiadens et al (1998) highlights that: “In the early stages of COPD, patients may only experience mild breathlessness when taking exercise, but older patients are often at the stage of their disease where they are unable to care for themselves because they are too short of breath.”

Bear in mind that, COAD sufferers could actually be chronic asthma or bronchitis sufferers, which may or may not be linked to smoking.

Over the past 30 years the author has been into many caves containing foul air and observed the reactions of fellow cavers. What particularly stood out were the reactions of smokers and non-smokers when foul air was first encountered. These informal observations indicated that a higher percentage of heavy smokers react slowly to elevated concentrations of CO2 compared to non-smokers. At a cursory glance it would appear that many long term, heavy smokers could fit into the category of blue bloaters. Ex-smokers could be either pink puffers or blue bloaters. One could speculate that this may be due to a person’s history of physiological conditions, which resulted in prolonged restriction of lung or respiratory function. Thus their body has become acclimatized to elevated CO2 in the lungs and blood. This condition may have reverted their primary trigger to an O2 deficiency and now uses the body’s CO2 sensors, as the secondary trigger to control breathing and heart rates.


Two possible scenarios are put forward for discussion.

1. Given that speleology is a physical sport and a reasonable degree of fitness is required to go caving, one could speculate that in speleological terms, a high proportion of blue bloaters may well be people with COAD at a stage, which is undiagnosed. Given that this disease progresses undetected for a long time before it impacts on the physical life of a person, it may have inverted the persons main trigger for their breathing function. Hence they may not respond as quickly to elevated CO2, in a cave atmosphere as non-COAD cavers and as such have a greatly increased chance of losing consciousness without warning.

Lippmann (1992) appears to support this scenario by stating:

Some people have chronic obstructive airways disease, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema which may cause excess carbon dioxide to be trapped in the airways. Certain sufferers become less sensitive to carbon dioxide to stimulate their breathing and rely more than normal on diminishing blood oxygen levels to cause them to breathe.

Little evidence could be found amongst other medical literature to suggest that the onset of COAD may have reverted a person’s primary trigger to an O2 deficiency and use the body’s CO2 sensors, as the secondary trigger to control breathing and heart rates.

2. A more accepted view in the medical fraternity is that patients who are going to become pink puffers or blue bloaters, medically speaking, were probably destined to become one or the other at birth. The mechanism which determines this is not fully understood. Blue bloaters have a dulled respiratory centre and respond less to a rise in CO2 concentration. Some 20% of the population have a pulmonary vascular bed which responds to hypoxia6 by vasoconstriction13 which causes hypertension14 in the pulmonary circulation, overloads the right heart which hypertrophies15 and subsequently fails causing swelling of the lower body. People with this basic physiological predisposition will probably develop blue bloater type COAD if they smoke heavily. Could it be that cavers who are speleological blue bloaters are probably destined to become medical blue bloaters later if they smoke heavily and develop COAD?

Certainly these two scenarios could form the basis of a research project for someone with access to equipment, capable of lung function measurements over a diverse range of individuals. Another consideration would be the large variation in levels of fitness amongst cavers – both smokers and non smokers.


The terms pink puffers and blue bloaters are used by speleologists in a colloquial sense to categorise how individuals react when breathing foul air in caves. Pink puffers hyperventilate and have good colour, while blue bloaters react slowly and look bluish because they are starved of oxygen. In foul air, a blue bloater runs the risk of losing consciousness without warning. James and Dyson’s (1981) were quite within reason when they associated the medical term to describe the physiological effect of foul air on cavers. However, while the subtle difference in skin colour may be true for persons of white Caucasian background, it is less discernible with persons of darker coloured skin.

Amongst the medical profession, patients with Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COAD) were traditionally viewed as being either “blue bloaters” or “pink puffers” because the terms described their outward appearance and reaction to breathing good air. More recent guidelines stress that most COAD patients won’t fall into either group because the medical condition covers such a wide spectrum. The traditional terms pink puffer and blue bloater, were only describing patients at the extremes of COAD. The terms were used by the medical profession, to characterise the patient’s general skin colour, body build and breathing habits in good air. Now the terms are rarely used by the medical fraternity, particularly with the awareness of the need for a politically correct vocabulary.

Over the past 30 years the author has observed the reactions of fellow cavers to foul air. At a cursory glance it would appear many long term, heavy smokers fit into the category of blue bloaters. Ex-smokers are either pink puffers or blue bloaters, and the majority of non smokers being pink puffers. Could this apparent high average of blue bloaters among smokers be due to their body becoming acclimatized to elevated CO2 in the lungs and blood, thus reverting their primary trigger to an O2 deficiency to control breathing and heart rates?

Two possible scenarios are put forward for discussion, which could link speleology blue bloaters, with smoking and the early stages of COAD.

1. Do long term smokers have an increased chance of being a speleological blue bloater because the early stages of COAD may have reverted their primary trigger to an O2 deficiency and use the body’s CO2 sensors, as the secondary trigger to control breathing and heart rate?

2. Is a persons destiny as a speleological pink puffers or blue bloaters, determined at birth well before the influence of smoking or COAD? At birth approximately 20% of the population have a pulmonary vascular bed which responds to hypoxia by vasoconstriction13. People with this basic physiological predisposition are more likely to develop medical blue bloater type COAD if they smoke heavily. Is it an early sign that a speleological blue bloater will become a medical blue bloater if they smoke heavily and develop COAD?

These two scenarios could certainly form the basis of a research project for someone with access to equipment, capable of lung function measurements over a diverse range of individuals.


I would especially like to thank Andy Spate for critically reviewing this paper.

Also considered while writing this paper were helpful comments via email from Dr. John West, Professor of Medicine and Physiology, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego and valued comments from other respiratory specialists.


1. Emphysema is an abnormal permanentenlargement of the air spaces distal to the terminal bronchioles,accompanied by destruction of their walls and without obviousfibrosis (Kerstjens 1999).

In emphysema the walls of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) within the lungs are gradually destroyed. The lungs lose elasticity and can no longer expand and contract easily to draw in and force out air. The disease develops so slowly that its victims are generally unaware that anything serious is wrong until much of the lung function in impaired (Howard and Lewis 1986).

2. Chronic bronchitis is defined as chronic cough, mucusproduction, or both, for at least three months for at least twosuccessive years where other causes of chronic cough have beenexcluded (Kerstjens 1999). Bronchitis usually results from a viral infection, such as a cold, which spreads down into the bronchi and is followed by a bacterial infection.

3.A measurement of the diffusion capacity for carbon monoxide (DLco) directly reflects the integrity of the alveolar capillary unit, and is useful for separating emphysema from the other forms of COPD, particularly in patients without substantial clinical signs. (Buist et al 1991)

4.Cor pulmonale: disease of the heart characterized by hypertrophy and dilatation of the right ventricle and secondary to disease of the lungs or their blood vessels.

5.Plethoric is a bodily condition characterized by an excess of blood and marked by turgescence (swollen or inflamed) and a reddish complexion.

6.Hypoxia is a deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues of the body.

7.Chronic Asthma is a condition characterised by frequent bouts of breathlessness. In an asthma attack, the bronchi become narrow because their walls contract and cause partial obstruction of the airway, which makes breathing difficult. The mucous membrane lining may swell and be accompanied be secretion of thick sticky mucus. An attack may be brought on by an allergic reaction to airborne particles, such as:- pollen, mould spores, dust and animal fur (The Family Medical Reference Book. 1987). Some medical references also include asthma in the definition of COAD, even though asthma is a reversible airway obstruction.

8.Airway inflammation is an inflammation of the airway which restricts airflow to the lungs.

9.Exacerbation: to aggravate or make a medical condition more severe.

10.Pack years of smoking were calculated as the product of years of smoking and the mean number of cigarettes per day divided by 20.

11.Hypoxemia: deficient oxygenation of the blood; condition of having less than normal oxygen in the blood.

12.Spirometric values: are measurements made to determine the efficiency or the respiratory system. eg. FEV1: Forced expired volume in one second.

13.Vasoconstriction:contraction of the muscular coat in the wall of arteries, which reduces the blood vessel bore and the amount of blood flow.

14.Hypertension: abnormally high blood pressure and especially arterial blood pressure.

15.Hypertrophies: Excessive development, morbid enlargement of an organ.


Bibliography and References.

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Comments are most welcome.