One question that many scuba divers ask is whether it is safe to scuba dive after flying.
The short answer is yes, but not directly after flying.
It is generally safe to scuba dive after flying, but there are some risks associated with doing so.
We will go over all of them and all the nuances of flying after diving and diving after flying. But we first want to say that this information is for informational purposes only. At OtterAquatics we are divers and not doctors.
If you have any more in-depth questions on these topics, you should contact your dive agency, your diving insurance provider (hopefully you have one), or your doctor.
What are the Main Risks of Scuba Diving After Flying?
The main risk of scuba diving after flying is decompression sickness (DCS). We have an article about The Bends, but here is a quick overview of DCS.
DCS occurs when nitrogen bubbles form in the body due to a rapid change in pressure.
When you scuba dive, your body absorbs nitrogen from the air you breathe, and as you descend deeper into the water, the pressure increases, causing the nitrogen to dissolve in your tissues.
If you then ascend too quickly, the pressure decreases, causing the nitrogen to come out of the solution and form bubbles in your bloodstream and tissues. This can result in a range of symptoms, including joint pain, fatigue, dizziness, and even paralysis or death in severe cases.
Flying can increase the risk of decompression sickness because the change in altitude can affect the body’s nitrogen levels.
When you fly, the cabin pressure decreases, which causes the nitrogen in your body to expand.
If you then scuba dive without allowing enough time for your body to readjust to the new pressure, you may be at risk for decompression sickness.
To reduce the risk of decompression sickness when scuba diving after flying, it is recommended that scuba divers wait at least 12-24 hours after flying before diving.
This allows time for the body to readjust to the lower altitude and for any excess nitrogen to dissipate.
It is important to note that this waiting period may vary depending on factors such as the length of the flight, the altitude of the destination, and the individual diver’s health and diving history.
There are other potential risks associated with scuba diving after flying.
Changes in air pressure can affect the ears and sinuses, causing discomfort or pain. This can be exacerbated by flying, which can cause further changes in pressure.
If you experience any discomfort or pain in your ears or sinuses after flying, it is important to consult with a doctor or diving professional before scuba diving. Don’t fight through it, it could just be your sinus and will clear up but maybe something else.
Another potential risk of scuba diving after flying is dehydration. Flying can cause dehydration due to the low humidity levels in airplane cabins, and scuba diving can also cause dehydration due to the body’s increased fluid loss when diving.
Dehydration can make you more susceptible to the effects of flying, so it is important to stay hydrated before and after your dive.
It is also important to note that some airlines have specific guidelines and regulations regarding flying after scuba diving, so it is always a good idea to check with your airline before traveling.
How Long Should I Wait Before Flying After Scuba Diving?
After scuba diving, it is recommended that divers wait at least 18-24 hours before flying to reduce the risk of decompression sickness.
This waiting period allows the body to eliminate excess nitrogen that may have accumulated during the dive. It is important to note that this waiting period may need to be longer depending on factors like the depth of the dive, your age, the duration of your dives, and if you have a history of decompression sickness.
- For a single no-decompression dive, you should wait a minimum of 12 hours before flying.
- For multiple dives over multiple days, you should wait a minimum of 18 hours before flying.
- For dives that require decompression stops, you should wait at least 24 hours or more before flying.
It’s always best to consult with a dive doctor or a medical professional who is knowledgeable about diving medicine to get specific recommendations based on your individual circumstances.
What Are The Risks of Flying After Scuba Diving?
Flying after scuba diving can increase the risk of decompression sickness as well. When you scuba dive, nitrogen is absorbed into your body’s tissues, and if you fly too soon after a dive, the reduced cabin pressure can cause the nitrogen to come out of the tissues and form bubbles in the bloodstream.
Other potential risks of flying after scuba diving include ear or sinus problems, as changes in altitude can cause discomfort or pain in these areas.
Lastly, dehydration from diving can make you more susceptible to the effects of flying, so it is important to stay hydrated before and after your dive.
Can You Scuba Dive Within 24 Hours of Flying?
While it is generally recommended to wait at least 12-24 hours after flying before scuba diving or freediving, it is not recommended to dive within 24 hours of flying.
This waiting period allows your body to adjust to the lower altitude and for any excess nitrogen to dissipate, reducing the risk of decompression sickness.
However, it is important to note that this waiting period may vary depending on factors such as the length of the flight, the altitude of the destination, and the individual diver’s health and diving history.
Hopefully, you have a dive computer and can follow the guidelines it has for you.
Can You Fly and Freedive on the Same Day?
While DAN recommends 24 hours at sea level after flying before scuba diving there is no expert consensus on the exact waiting time for freediving.
Research on freediving is in its infancy and studies on flying and freediving is even less. You can get DCS through freediving, but the risks of getting DCS are difficult to pinpoint or mitigate.
It is thought that DCS risk relates to the depths, quantity, surface intervals, and lengths of your freedives.
Can I go Snorkeling After Flying?
Snorkeling at shallow depths will not be an issue with dissolved nitrogen. But you should be careful about three other factors.
Ear pressure – Snorkeling can involve equalizing the pressure in your ears, which can be more difficult if your ears are still adjusting to the changes in altitude during your flight. Take extra care to equalize your ears properly to avoid discomfort or injury.
Fatigue – Traveling by plane can be tiring, and the effects of jet lag can make you feel even more exhausted. It is important to make sure that you are well-rested and have enough energy to safely participate in snorkeling.
Hydration – Air travel can also cause dehydration, which can increase your risk of cramping or heat exhaustion while snorkeling. Make sure you drink plenty of water before and during your snorkeling excursion to stay hydrated.
Can I Take a Low Altitude Flight After Diving
Low-altitude flying after diving is generally safe as the cabin pressure is not significantly different from sea level. As with all flying it is generally not recommended to take a low-altitude flight immediately after diving due to the risk of decompression sickness.
When you dive, nitrogen is absorbed into your body’s tissues and bloodstream, and if you ascend too quickly, the nitrogen can form bubbles in your body’s tissues, causing decompression sickness.
Flying at low altitudes can also cause changes in pressure and altitude that can affect the body in a similar way as ascending too quickly from a dive. Try to wait at least 12-24 hours after diving before flying to reduce the risk of decompression sickness.
Can I Go to High Altitudes/ Mountains After Diving?
Going to high altitudes after diving can increase the risk of decompression sickness over 1,000 ft (300m). This is because the reduced air pressure at high altitudes can cause the nitrogen that has accumulated in your body during a dive to come out of the solution too quickly, leading to the formation of bubbles in the bloodstream.
If you have recently gone scuba diving, it is recommended to wait at least 12-24 hours before traveling to high altitudes, such as to the mountains or to high-altitude cities.
It is important to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and strenuous exercise, as these factors can increase the risk of decompression sickness.