Can You Scuba Dive When Taking Medication?
Yes, you can Scuba Dive when taking most medications. However…it does depend on what medication you are taking, how long you have been on the medication, and if they have any side effects that could affect you underwater or put you at risk of a diving-related accident.
At some point in our lives, we have to take medication. Whether it be for that irritating chesty cough from going out with wet hair (I know mum, I should have listened…) or something more serious such as reducing your blood pressure and chances of a blood clot with beta-blockers.
Medications come in two types: Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications and prescription medications.
Your OTC medications are the ones you can usually buy at your local supermarket, which include paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamines, mild sedatives, sleep aids, and basically anything that you don’t need that slip of paper for.
Prescription medications are the ones given to you by your doctor or a medical examiner like antidepressants, antibiotics, blood thinners and beta-blockers.
You get the gist…
For most prescription medications, it is recommended to wait at least 30 days after the first dose to ensure the dosage is correct and to reveal if you are experiencing any side effects that could affect your performance underwater.
So, what medications can you dive on, and which can’t you dive on? Well, to clear that up, we will be covering the following in this article:
- Can You Scuba Dive on OTC Medications?
- Can You Scuba Dive on Antidepressants?
- Can You Scuba Dive on Antibiotics?
- Can You Scuba Dive on Blood thinners?
- Can You Scuba Dive on Beta-blockers?
Can You Scuba Dive on OTC Medications?
As most Over-The-Counter or OTC medications can give you many side effects, many are not recommended to take while scuba diving. OTC medications are what you likely have stashed away in your ‘medical cupboard’ at home.
Most people think that because OTC medications do not require a prescription, it automatically puts you in the clear to go Scuba Diving. But, this is a common misconception!
Many OTC medications have side effects that could put you at risk of a diving accident. So, which medications should you pay close attention to the long piece of paper printed in a tiny font?
Read on to find out more!
Sedatives & Sleep Aids Medication
Sleeping medication should never be taken when Scuba Diving. As the name suggests, sedatives and sleep aids can make you drowsy, making nitrogen narcosis worse underwater.
With drowsiness comes poor judgement, which can cause serious consequences when Scuba Diving, particularly if you get caught in strong currents, or you need to assist your diving buddy in an emergency.
Sedatives and sleep aids can also make you feel nauseous, causing you to vomit underwater. This along with poor judgement can easily result in drowning.
Antihistamines can potentially cause sedation, which could put you in trouble underwater. Although most people do not experience side effects with Antihistamines, they are advised not to be taken before a dive… even if you are considered a ‘healthy diver’.
I know how it feels. It is the dreaded hay fever season, and you are dosed up to your eyeballs on antihistamines. These little allergy tablets might be the only thing getting you through the day, but read below why they are not all recommended during Scuba Diving.
For the less healthy diver, Antihistamines can elevate blood pressure and if you suffer from heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, emphysema, glaucoma, or an enlarged prostate, you can be put in significantly more risk!
Therefore, taking Antihistamines when Scuba Diving should be done carefully.
Luckily, there are some good non-sedating antihistamines OTC, so you don’t have to worry about cancelling that epic dive trip over your allergies!
Decongestants work wonders for cold, sinusitis, hay fever, allergies and rhinitis, and most decongestants do not appear to add any risk to Diving. There is nothing worse than waking up to a stuffy or blocked nose before your dive!
If you don’t know already, you should never dive with a cold! Scuba Diving with congestion can cause pain and injury due to the increasing pressure and difficulty equalising! It is possible to take Decongestion medication to remove this issue.
However…decongestants have the same warnings as Antihistamines, and if you require them to dive, be aware they can put you at a higher risk of pressure injuries such as barotrauma.
Nasal decongestants are also not recommended to take when Scuba Diving because they wear off quickly, putting you in a worse state than before the Dive. Which would not be good!
Anti-Motion Sickness Medication
For the same reasons mentioned above, Anti-Motion Sickness Medication is not recommended to be taken before a dive as it can cause Drowsiness! However, there are other methods to try!
If the good-old “look at the horizon” doesn’t help on the boat, or you need to take a long car journey to the dive site, then you may need to take anti-motion sickness tablets. In fact, many dive centres will ask you if you get travel sick before climbing on the boat if it’s going to be a long and/or bumpy ride!
However, despite the temptation to take some medication to ease your stomach, it might not be the safest idea!
There are many types of anti-motion sickness tablets, many of which cause side effects similar to antihistamines and decongestants, especially drowsiness.
For example, Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) is a prime example of an anti-motion sickness medication that is known to make people feel sleepy, so this is one to avoid! Always check for side effects before taking motion-sickness medication before a dive!
But if you get motion sickness, do not worry! Do not let this stop you from Scuba Diving, as there are many great alternatives out there.
For example, bands can be worn on your wrist. They work for many people to treat travel sickness, and they come with no risk of side effects.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are usually safe to take when Scuba Diving. However, they are generally not recommended because of Decompression Sickness (DCS) risks.
NSAIDs are also thought to increase your chances of inner ear bleeding, however, the Divers Alert Network (DAN) does not have enough evidence to support this from diver accident claims. Yet, people with peptic ulcer disease, bleeding problems, or asthma are still strongly advised by doctors, not to scuba dive on NSAIDs.
Other medications such as paracetamol are considered safe, but if you require stronger medication, you should first consider if you are fit to dive.
If not, wait until your condition has improved before taking the plunge!
Can You Scuba Dive on Antidepressants?
Most of the time, yes, you can Scuba Dive on Antidepressants. But, Antidepressants have a few side effects that could risk divers with compressed air. These side effects include drowsiness, convulsions, blurred vision, and increased bleeding, which are all very dangerous if you were to experience any of these when Scuba Diving!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental health issue in their life. Mental health issues include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, and attention-deficit disorders (ADHD & ADD).
Most of these can be treated with non-pharmaceutical methods, but others may need short or long-term medication. Many studies have actually shown that Scuba Diving can be beneficial if you suffer from mental health issues, but often, that’s not enough for everyone.
When taking Antidepressants, it is important to have an honest conversation with your doctor before going Scuba Diving.
If you suffer from a mild mental illness, are in good health, have good judgement, and do not experience any side effects from your medication, your doctor should have no issues signing you off to go Scuba Diving.
However, DAN says the concern is that some antidepressant medications can mimic symptoms of decompression sickness, or cause serious issues underwater such as drowsiness, numbness, seizures, altered mental status, and vision problems.
Because of this, it is best to wait at least 3 months until you are familiar with your medication before going Scuba Diving.
Can You Scuba Dive on Antibiotics?
The simple answer is yes, you can take Antibiotics when Scuba Diving. However, there are a few things you should know about before doing so!
Antibiotics are commonly prescribed when you have an infection. Whether it be an ear infection, bronchitis or something in your gut, Antibiotics work wonders when taken properly.
While Antibiotics are considered safe to take during Scuba Diving, you should wait 4 days to be sure you are not experiencing any hypersensitivity reactions or other side effects.
Because Antibiotics are commonly prescribed, many divers come to question the safety of Scuba Diving while taking them. The good news is yes! You can Scuba Dive on Antibiotics, but you should be aware of a few things before setting up your scuba equipment and jumping into paradise!
The first thing is UV exposure. Some Antibiotics (Fluoroquinolone & Tetracycline) can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. So make sure you apply some reef-safe sunscreen and avoid long sun exposure where possible.
Some Antibiotics also come with side effects such as nausea and diarrhoea, which can affect your dive plans or even your entire holiday. If you suffer from these side effects, it is best not to take them when you plan to dive.
This is to avoid vomiting in your regulator and/or having an accident in your wetsuit!
Can You Scuba Dive on Blood Thinners?
You should not Scuba Dive when taking blood thinners. The risk of a massive bleed when taking blood thinners is quite high when Scuba Diving.
Blood thinners are used to prevent or reduce coagulation and blood clots. They are prescribed to treat different medical conditions and blood diseases.
The biggest risk when taking blood thinners while Scuba Diving is excessive or uncontrollable bleeding. Therefore, even the slightest scratch underwater can soon become a challenging medical emergency.
In addition to cuts and bruises when diving, middle-ear or sinus barotraumas are the most common diving injury, according to the DAN emergency line. As blood thinners prevent blood clotting, taking them while Scuba Diving puts you at more risk of internal bleeding in your ears.
The risk of DCS is also there. Normally coagulation can control micro-bleeds, but on blood thinners, the micro-bleeding from DCS bubble formation can reduce the effectiveness of recompression treatment because of uncontrollable bleeding.
Can You Scuba Dive on Beta-Blockers?
Scuba Divers that use beta-blockers must be cleared by a doctor. Doctors recommend taking a stress test to check your heart’s function during exercise. Divers that are able to do strenuous exercise without feeling fatigued are usually cleared to go Scuba Diving with no problems.
Beta-blockers are prescribed to manage abnormal heart rhythms and protect you from having a second heart attack if you have had one before.
As beta-blockers can reduce your heart’s ability to exercise, they can affect you when Scuba Diving by restricting the heart’s function. This increases the risk of becoming unconscious underwater, which if this happens, can be fatal.
This is why doctors will recommend a stress test, and if you can do strenuous exercise without feeling faint, then your doctor may clear you “fit for diving” – yay!
Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!
Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.
Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:
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So if you are planning a dive and are currently taking medication, most of the time it is totally fine. However, it depends on what type of medication you are taking, how long you have been taking it, and if you are experiencing any side effects that could put you at risk underwater.
If you are ever unsure, speak to your doctor and your insurance company.
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