The Dos and Don’ts of Scuba Diving with Asthma

The underwater world is a fascinating one that should be enjoyed by everyone, but certain medical conditions might prevent you from fully experiencing the riches of the ocean. One such condition is asthma. 

Scuba diving requires you to be able to draw deep, even breaths and asthma might prevent you from doing that. Fret not! We’re here to help. Full disclaimer though, this blog post isn’t a substitute for medical advice, and your best bet to diving with ANY medical condition is checking with your doc first. Anyhoo, here’s some information that you might appreciate if you’re thinking about diving with a respiratory condition like asthma. 

Male traveler swimming underwater with shark

The Do’s of Asthmatic Diving

Do find out if you’re fit to dive. This is often called a Fitness to Dive (FTD), where a person is evaluated if they can meet the demands of normal and emergency scuba diving situations. Functional tests are often conducted in a pool or open water, accompanied by lab-based tests if needed. 

During these tests, several factors come into play, such as your aerobic or VO2 max capacity and swimming capabilities. After passing these tests, you can try getting scuba-certified if you’re serious about the sport. The certification course may take several days to weeks, depending on your learning curve. 

The Don’ts of Asthmatic Diving

One of the most important things is not to hide your asthmatic condition from a physician, as it may be harmful to you in the future. Give your doctors the full history of your health condition, even if it’s been years since your last symptom. They’ll be able to give you the proper test according to your condition. You also shouldn’t dive within 48 hours of you requiring medication. 

Can I dive with asthma?

Yes, you can dive with asthma as long as you get the sign-off from your physician and your asthma is not triggered by exercise, emotion, and cold. Diving may require you to face emergencies, which could be fatal if your asthma is emotion-induced. It’s also physically exhausting and air from the oxygen tanks or deeper water may be colder, which could irritate the lungs. 

What does the doctor need to know?

The first thing you need to do is to disclose your health history with your doctor, including your last symptoms and triggers. You should also inform them how active you are or if you ever have trouble breathing when exercising. 

Then discuss a fitness-to-dive test with your doctor, to find out if you’re able to handle diving. You can start with a phone consultation and continue to book a proper fitness-to-dive test session. 

What is an Asthma Stress Test?

An asthma stress test will try to recreate the situation you’ll experience underwater, such as breathing compressed air and swimming against a current. They may require you to breathe through a scuba tank while pedaling on an exercise bike. At the same time, health professionals will monitor your lung functions. 

The test will give them information on whether or not you’ll be able to dive. Before you undergo an asthma stress test, they’ll ask you to keep a peak flow diary using a peak flow meter for around 2 weeks. A normal person will have a stable peak flow, while those with issues will have varied flows.  

Tips for diving with asthma

Did you get the green flag after the fitness to dive test? We have more tips that can help you breathe easier and enjoy your trip better: 

  • First of all, pack all your essentials, such as your inhaler, and keep them ready on the boat in case of emergency.
  • Use good quality equipment. For example, a proper diving regulator with precision and consistent airflow.  
  • Learn a few scuba hand signals to communicate with fellow divers and instructors if you ever feel uncomfortable. 
  • Monitor your condition and inform others about your condition before the dive. 
  • Lastly, don’t forget to have fun and record your underwater journey. Check out these GoPros, they’re lightweight, compact, and high quality. 
Person in Blue Wetsuit Underwater Beside a School of Fish

Arterial Air Embolism

Rule number one of scuba diving is to never hold your breath. Obey that rule religiously and you won’t know what it feels like to get arterial air embolism, which is when air enters an artery and becomes trapped. 

The blood supply to organs will be blocked, and divers may lose consciousness or develop symptoms similar to stroke. Air bubbles may enter due to pulmonary barotrauma or decompression sickness. These issues may happen if a diver holds their breath during ascent or when a diver ascends too quickly. Treatment usually involves the use of hyperbaric chambers or breathing supplemental oxygen. 

What Are the Risks of Scuba Diving with Asthma?

There are several risks associated with diving with asthma. Some of these risks are bronchospasm induced by inhaling seawater, pollen contamination in the oxygen tank causing atopic asthma, gas embolism, and pulmonary barotrauma. That’s why you need to consult a diving and asthma specialist before deciding to go on a trip if you’re an asthmatic scuba diver.      

The current recommendations

Because asthma can be different from one person to another, evaluations should be made individually. Many factors are coming into play when it comes to asthma and diving, such as your triggers, pulmonary conditions, and fitness level. 

Current recommendations and guidelines advise you to avoid diving if you have tremendous airway variability, abnormal pulmonary function tests, or are triggered by cold, emotion, or exercise. You may dive if your asthma is well controlled and your pulmonary function tests are normal. Consult a health professional to find out how you can receive proper evaluations. 

So What’s the Verdict?

Diving has its risks, especially for asthmatic divers. Although scuba diving was previously not allowed for those with asthma, current studies have found that it can be managed, as long as you go through a fitness to dive evaluation and have your asthma under control. 

Remember to always consult your doctor before every diving trip. Your conditions may change from time to time, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t forget to pack all necessary equipment, monitor your condition, inform your diving companions, and learn the procedure in case of emergencies. With the right preparation, you can dive to your heart’s content!

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