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Diving & Asthma

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 9 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Diving And Asthma Scuba And Asthma

Diving can be a dangerous activity even if a person is completely healthy but it can be particularly so if you suffer from asthma. Some of the things which trigger off problems for asthmatics are also present in scuba diving.

The Risks

The diving gas we breathe when scuba diving is dry and when it’s released via a valve, it results in a cooling effect and breathing dry, cool air can exacerbate an asthmatic’s problems with breathing. In addition, the intensity of swimming with a scuba tank strapped to one’s back can cause breathlessness which can also induce an asthma attack.

Coughing as a result of the inhalation of water also can cause a narrowing of the airways. And, with the added effect of the perceived adrenaline rush and stress caused by anticipation, especially if you’ve never been scuba diving before, all these combinations can be particularly of concern if you suffer from asthma.

Is Diving a ‘No-Go’ Area For Asthmatics Then?

No-one understands their asthma problems more so than the sufferer themselves. In certain cases, their symptoms are mild and whilst they may have suffered from it in childhood, it may well be that they have not have experienced any problems for years. For serious sufferers of asthma, they should not attempt to scuba dive at all. However, generally accepted diving medical experts’ opinion would seem to suggest that if a person has not displayed any symptoms of asthma whatsoever and has not needed any anti-asthma medication for at least a period of 5 years, then following a medical examination to check the person over and, having had all the risks explained to them, then they should be permitted to go scuba diving.

Recurrence Of Asthma

It’s understandable that many people who have suffered from asthma, whether mild or serious, during their earlier years but have not experienced any symptoms in adulthood may still be worried about the prospect of their asthma recurring were they to go diving.

Whilst there is no 100% guarantee of certainty that this couldn’t happen, there are now tests you can undertake in a controlled laboratory setting which involve breathing mist from saltwater from a nebulizer and this can show whether or not it results in bronchial narrowing. If it does, then it’s recommended that you don’t go diving whilst if bronchial narrowing does not occur, the tests would seem to show that you’re unlikely to suffer an asthma attack whilst diving.

What About Snorkelling?

Snorkelling is a safer and more suitable activity for those who enjoy the underwater experience yet have some kind of asthmatic condition. Because snorkellers breathe through a mouthpiece above the water’s surface and are not taking in air at depth, there is less of a risk of a lung bursting whilst ascending. However, due care and attention to other issues associated with the water and asthma related conditions still need to be taken into consideration and snorkelling can still be dangerous for asthmatics unless their condition is stable and has been so for some time.

If you do suffer from asthma or have suffered from it in the past, you should always speak to your GP first who will advise you on whether or not they think that snorkelling or scuba diving represent too much of a risk for you and, if they do give you the all-clear, it’s also advisable to tell the diving instructor about your asthmatic history when you go, taking any necessary documentation from your GP which states that they believe it’s safe for you to dive or snorkel. Despite of that however, it will always be up to the owner of the diving school or activity organisation to have the final say on whether or not they will permit you to take part. After all, their insurance liability could be at risk.

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