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Learning To Dive - Medical Considerations and Requirements

© 2003 Geoff Allen

Medical Requirements

In Australia you must have a Recreational SCUBA Diving Medical to Australian Standard 4005.1 (AS4005.1). The South Pacific Underwater Medical Society (SPUMS) lists Doctors who have completed a Diving Medical Course to be able to perform these Medicals. The Dive Medical must be valid, within 12 Months of starting a course or a new one is required. Overseas Dive Medicals are not accepted unless they are equal to or better than the AS4005.1 Standard, which will have to be proved by you.

Medical Conditions

Medical Conditions. There are some medical conditions that may exclude you from SCUBA diving, some of these conditions are seasickness, asthma, diabetes, drug use, nervous system disorders, some cancers, hepatitis, malaria, etc. With some, it is the condition itself, and others, it is the drugs that are given for the condition that exclude you from diving. Unfortunately, the medical profession doesn't give black and white answers and some of the conditions require you to accept the risk and responsibility for the decision. But, research is being conducted by various agencies around the world all the time and things do change from time to time. Some of the more common illnesses are briefly covered below:

  Seasickness. Seasickness is a form of motion sickness and is not a major problem these days, as it can be controlled by various medications that can be purchased over the counter. Talk to your Diving Doctor or Chemist, about what you want it for and the effects of the different brands.
 
Asthma.
Firstly, what is Asthma? It is a condition that restricts the flow of air to the lungs having different triggers, grass and flower pollen, cold air, dust, mold, etc. and which doesn't necessarily exclude you from Scuba Diving. When having your Dive Medical, you must advise the Diving Doctor that you have this condition and they will question you about its occurrence and possibly send you off to a specialists who may perform a Pulmonary Function Test or/and a Saltwater Aspiration Test. These tests will check the functions of your airways and will also determine whether a spray of salt water under pressure will trigger the condition. The specialist will then give you a report for your Diving Doctor, then they may advise you of the consequences, so that you can make an educated decision and take responsibility for yourself, or, they may make the decision on your fitness to dive. Basically, if the test doesn't trigger the condition then you will be fit to dive, but if it does trigger the condition then you will be unfit to dive.
 
Diabetes.
The medical profession has determined there are two types of Diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.
  Type 1. Type 1 Diabetes is Insulin dependent where you have to inject Insulin on a regular basis to control the sugar levels. Because of the sudden changes in the condition it will normally exclude you from diving activities.
  Type 2. Type 2 Diabetes is where the condition is controlled by diet or oral medications. If this is managed quite well on a daily basis then the Diving Doctor may advise you of the consequences, so that you can make an educated decision and take responsibility for yourself and pass you fit to dive with conditions.

Drugs and Medications:

Firstly, what is a Drug? To put it basically, it is anything that we put into our body that manipulates its normal function in any way. Drugs or Medications (tablets, liquids, etc.) or anything (food, drink, etc.) that we put in our body has varying effects on the different parts of our body (organs, tissues, etc.) sometimes individually, and, sometimes combined. This also covers things like organic or naturopathic medications. It basically comes down to you, as a responsible diver, to find out what implications these have on your body in general and also whilst diving. By giving your Diving Doctor a call would be a good start because they are the specialists in this area where you should seek guidance.

Remember the implications of what you are doing, you are diving with a dive buddy who you have asked to be responsible for your life if something goes wrong where you can't help yourself, and, in turn, they have placed their life in your hands. The dive briefing would be the time not only to advise them of the condition but also of the signs that they should look for if something was to happen, and then, they can make an educated decision as to whether they are going to accept the responsibility for you.


Some commonly used Drugs. We will discuss some of the commonly used drugs that are in use today, some legal and some not. Those are Alcohol, Cigarettes and Marijuana:

  Alcohol. Alcohol is not only found in the beverages that we get at a pub or hotel, but, also in things like medications, ointments, foods, etc. Alcohol is a Diuretic (meaning it produces dehydration), which is one of the factors that can lead to Decompression Illness or the bends. Adding that to the filtered dry air we breath out of a cylinder during a dive, which gives us a double dose of dehydration. Different studies have shown that your ability to process information is reduced at a Blood Alcohol Concentration of only 0.015 percent (ruffly, half a standard drink).
 
Cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes is not good for you under normal circumstances because of the way the chemicals in the tobacco and filter can harm your body. For the diver, not only will the cigarettes get a bit soggy underwater, but, it can reduce the body's ability to perform at its best when required (e.g. when trying to dive against a strong current or when trying to perform a rescue). The effect of smoking before a dive is that the Carbon Monoxide taken in from the cigarette reduces the ability of the Blood to take up Oxygen, a symptom of this is a headache during or after a dive. Masking a more potentially dangerous condition, Decompression Illness, because this is also one of it's symptoms. Over a long period, it can produce various conditions throughout the body, not only to stop you from diving, but also to stop you from living.
 
Marijuana. You thought Alcohol and Cigarettes were bad, Marijuana is an absolute nightmare when it comes into contact with Diving. A recent study done by Dr. Ernest Campbell from Diving Medical Online lists 22 potentially harmful effects for divers. For more information check out his website at http://www.scuba-doc.com/.

Female Issues and Diving

Worldwide, around 19% of all people learning to dive are women - in Australia it's much higher, at around 30%.

  Menses. Despite the old myth, there is no evidence to show increased shark interest in a menstruating female. However, if a female is experiencing any distress during menses she should not Scuba Dive.
 
Pregnancy
. There has been very little research on the pregnant woman and diving. Because of the unknown factors, if a women knows or suspects she is pregnant, it is recommended that she not Scuba Dive. This doesn't mean that if you do dive, something will happen, in fact, plenty of women have dived in the early stages of pregnancy without knowing they were pregnant, with no known adverse effects.

If you would like more information please visit the Divers Alert Network (DAN) or SPUMS websites and research it a bit further.

Other areas of this series: Main Page, Medical Considerations, Become A Scuba Diver, the day the course arrives, I passed - where do I go from here?

The information contained in this article has been gathered from various places, various sources and the experience and training of the originator. Once again, it is not to be taken as the only way things are or should be done, there are others.