Can You Dive With Asthma?

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Can You Dive With Asthma?

Although diving with Asthma is not recommended, the answer is technically a ‘yes’ in that there are no rules stopping a person with Asthma from going scuba diving. 

Diving with Asthma can be dangerous, especially if you recently underwent a medical emergency. Since it’s an inflammatory disease that restricts your airway when you’re exposed to unfamiliar situations, the physical exertion, cold temperature or even the adrenaline of being underwater can induce an acute attack.

Always seek a recommendation from a licensed professional and take well-planned precautions for all possibilities of complications, from start to the very end of your dive. Diving can still be a possibility if you do have Asthma (and like I outlined in that start of the article, very much is a hobby for those who do suffer from asthmatic symptoms), you just need to carefully work with not only a professional, but one who actually understand the exact training routines and procedures to follow for any diver with even a mild case of the well-know lung condition.

Why is Diving Not Recommended to Asthmatics?

Diving can be risky business for people with respiratory problems. The gas composition and ambience is completely new for your body- there’s a significant learning curve to breathing and moving with heavy equipment underwater. You’re surrounded by high levels of Nitrogen that can have dizzying effects and high water pressure that makes it harder to inhale the deeper you go.

It takes weeks of proper training and planning with trainers and your dive buddies to make sure you don’t get decompression sickness or panic out of confusion underwater. The high water pressure and gas density some meters deep can make a person with healthy lungs have problems breathing properly.

That said, it’s not impossible for Asthmatics to dive if all prescribed precautions are followed, tests passed and reliable backups are put in place. If you’re determined to experience the marine world and its wonders, Asthma wouldn’t be that big of an obstacle especially if it’s mild intermittent.

Though knowing what you’re signing up for and preparing for any possible risks is best before planning your diving trip.

Dangers and Risks of Scuba Diving With Asthma

When certain outside factors trigger your Asthma, the muscles around your airway swell up and block normal breathing. Different patients are sensitive to different triggers according to the severity and type of their condition, but the most common ones are:

  • Exercise induced: When you breathe dry, cold air or physically exert yourself too much. Found in 90% of all Asthma patients. Chlorine in swimming pools can make you more vulnerable to it.
  • Allergy induced: When your lungs are sensitive to certain things like pollen or dust.
  • Weather & stress triggers: When cold, dry air or humidity trigger Asthma. Sudden panic or strenuous situations can be just as bad.

You’re exposed to all kinds of Asthma triggers underwater. The heavy equipment makes it harder to move around and you have to finish the dive before oxygen runs out- you put in more physical effort and risk triggering Asthma.

There are mold, pollen, aquatic plants and animals that can have tendencies that you’re totally unfamiliar with- it’s too much of an allergy risk. Lastly, the water temperature could turn out to be too cold or even warm for your liking.

Keep all of these triggers in mind and put yourself in a diver’s shoes. Once you’re 30 feet deep your breathing capacity drops to 70% of its surface performance. That feels like breathing with a clip pinching your nose, it’s more taxing.

Cutting to the chase, your risks are:

You share the same risks as any other scuba diver, it’s the probability that’s different. People with a history of inflammation are more likely to suffer lung injuries, narrowing of airway, air leaking into the chest from lungs and generally lower pulmonary function while diving.

If your Asthma is anything more than mild or moderate, you may not be able to accommodate the high exertion and different breathing requirements when your lungs are already compromised.

Precautions to Take Before Diving with Asthma

Work with a doctor specializing in Asthma or Diving to assess if you’re fit to dive and the course of action you should follow in the diving environment you’re going to be in.

According to reliable diving associations including the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, you SHOULD NOT dive if:

  • You’ve had Asthma symptoms that required relief medication in the last 48 hours. Wait until your airway function has returned to normal and then go through proper testing.
  • Your spirometry test (measures the air you can exhale forcibly after taking a deep breath) comes out abnormal or FEV is above above 80%
  • You have a history of exercise induced Asthma. Diving requires a lot of physical activity from your end, consequences can be life threatening.

Besides analyzing your medical history and diving environment, you may have to go through breathing and exercise tests to make sure you’re not at too much of a risk underwater. People with mild to moderate Asthma who haven’t had any serious symptoms in the last few months are more likely to pass.

Once you’re declared fit to dive, here are some other important precautions you can take:

  • Make sure your divemaster and group are aware of your situation, can recognize if you have an attack and are equipped to get you to safety at any point during the dive.
  • Anti-inflammatory and beta-agonist medication can help your muscles relax and free up your airway enough to dive without any complications. Ask your doctor if that’s an option you can consider to reduce chances of swelling and mucus production during the dive.
  • Carry an inhaler and proper rescue medicine to back you up in case you have to surface earlier because of a medical emergency.
  • Monitor your breathing with a dive computer or spirometer as soon as you’re 3 to 4 feet deep, inform your trainer if there’s anything unusual.

What’s the bottom line?

Diving with Asthma involves a lot of risks. It’s important to go through tests and figure out if you’re fit to dive in the first place. Map out an action plan that keeps your medical history and the diving environment in close consideration. If you have high stress tolerance and mild Asthma that isn’t triggered by cold or excessive physical activity, by all means you might be a good diving candidate. Always consult a doctor and only dive under a highly qualified trainer’s supervision.