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Scuba Diving & Asthma: Do They Mix?

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Asthma is one of the most common medical conditions in the world, affecting nearly one out of every 12 people. Taking into consideration that the disorder heavily restricts your breathing, it’s believed by many people to disqualify potential divers from the scuba diving hobby.

But is that truly the case in 2022?

That’s what we’ll cover in this article.

*NOTE – If you do have any kind of respiratory disorder, please contact a doctor before diving, preferably a doctor that specializes in diving.

For a long time, doctors thought that all asthmatics were unable to dive and would be unwilling to sign off any medical forms to allow them to participate in any type of diving activity. In most cases, the advice given for prohibiting asthmatics where largely theoretical but now with more and more medical research and knowledge, the medical perspective has somewhat changed.

Asthma

So, what are the risks when diving with Asthma?

The main risk of diving with Asthma is bronchial narrowing. This can cause 3 main problems.

The first is an obstruction to the flow of air in and out of the lungs. This can especially affect divers as they already have a reduced breathing capacity due to the resistance caused by the scuba breathing apparatus and the fact they are already breathing compressed air.

The second problem is that air can encounter resistance when moving out of the lungs and subsequently become trapped inside. As a diver ascends the air will expand and if it expands faster than can be expelled, a lung overexpansion injury or lung barotrauma may occur. This can result in several problems including an arterial gas embolism (an air bubble forced into the arterial blood) or even a collapsed lung (Pneumothorax)

And thirdly, if a diver has a flare-up underwater they may not have the energy to return to the surface, become incapacitated, and drown.

Are Asthmatics at risk when scuba diving?

Like always when planning a dive, the health of the diver should always be taken into consideration and any necessary steps should be taken to avoid or deal with any potential problems.

Many experts now agree that if you have mild, well-controlled asthma, you should be able to dive as long as it isn’t induced by cold temperatures, exercise, or heightened emotions.

In the end, there are increased risks when diving with asthma but as long as you have it controlled and you are able to respond to any symptoms effectively and safely, there is a good chance that your doctor will allow you to dive.

So, can I dive with Asthma?

Although still a controversial subject, some medical experts now recognize that people can indeed go scuba diving with Asthma as long as it is well controlled.

However, it is still important to understand that you may be exposed to things that can potentially trigger symptoms. For example, exercise, cold air, stress, and anxiety.

It really depends on what triggers your particular type of asthma. For example,

A person with Allergen-triggered Asthma shouldn’t have any additional risks as they should not be exposed to any triggers when diving and will most probably be cleared by a doctor.

On the other hand, a person who has asthma that is triggered by physical activity would normally be advised not to dive as scuba diving requires a great amount of physical exertion.

Again, if you want to be safe then it’s essential to consult your doctor before diving. Your doctor may want to perform various tests to make sure that you are fit to dive. Things like spirometry, a peak flow test, or certain exercise tests.

Safety tips for diving with asthma

  • Consult your doctor and obtain consent before diving with asthma (preferably one specializing in diving)
  • Avoid diving if your asthma is triggered by cold, exercise, or emotion
  • Don’t dive if you are feeling unwell especially if you are experiencing symptoms or an asthma flare-up.
  • Don’t dive if you have congestion in your ears or nose
  • Don’t dive if you are experiencing breathing difficulties
  • Always dive with a buddy / Never dive alone
  • Plan your dive and include planning for any asthma-related issues that may arise
  • Use an inhaler 30 minutes before diving to reduce the risks of a flare-up
  • Always be prepared for any eventuality and make sure the other divers are aware of your situation
  • Monitor yourself at all times for possible symptoms
  • If you experience shortness of breath or wheezing during the dive, let someone know and abandon the dive.
  • Always ascend slowly, especially in the shallower portion of the dive

Final thoughts……

Many experts believe that diving with mild asthma that is well controlled can indeed be safe. If your asthma is triggered by exercise or heightened emotions then this might not be the case. If you have asthma and are interested in exploring the underwater world then the only advice we can give is to speak to your doctor. They will let you know if it’s possible and help you make sure that your asthma is under control as much as possible.

Safe diving people

Chris Botting Author
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  • Welcome

    My name’s Austin Tuwiner, a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving under my belt, I’ve accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation!

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