Should You Scuba Dive With Asthma?

Should You Scuba Dive With Asthma?

If you have asthma, you usually can scuba dive, but first, you must discuss your triggers and limitations associated with asthma with your doctor. 

I know what you’re thinking… “I have asthma, and I have been told I can never go Scuba Diving”. Well, that’s not completely the case, and I’m here to tell you why. 

Asthma is the chronic inflammation of the lungs that narrows and swells your airways, which can make it very difficult to breathe. This is why inhalers are prescribed to open your airways and allow oxygen to move in and out of your lungs more easily. 

It is estimated that around 300 million people currently suffer from asthma, and of those that want to go scuba diving, whether they can, remains a very controversial topic.

Before you head out for some epic diving, you should always get consent from a licensed doctor! Preferably one who specialises in asthma or diving if you have been diagnosed with asthma before (this includes infant asthma as it can come back in later life). 

Previously, people suffering from asthma have been prohibited from taking part in scuba diving activities because diving can trigger issues such as pulmonary barotrauma, and other risks associated with narrowing airways when being in a pressurised environment like underwater. 

However, there is not enough scientific evidence to prohibit people with mild or controlled asthma from scuba diving. If you suffer from asthma, but you have normal lung function and do not require inhalers when exercising, it is usually safe to go scuba diving. 

Saying that… If you have uncontrolled asthma and you frequently rely on your inhalers, you shouldn’t go scuba diving because of the higher risk of drowning from an asthma attack underwater.

To look at the concerns raised by asthmatics that want to go scuba diving, we will cover the following points in this article:

  • What are the risks when scuba diving with asthma?
  • Can scuba diving trigger asthma attacks?
  • Guidelines for scuba diving with asthma 

What Are the Risks When Scuba Diving With Asthma?

Scuba diving with asthma increases the risk of suffering from an asthma attack underwater or developing bronchospasms, which can lead to drowning and in the worst case, diver death. 

Now this is the important part… 

You are probably already aware of the risks of scuba diving like decompression sickness or drowning, but it is also thought that divers suffering from asthma, are at a higher risk of these complications, plus developing bronchospasms and asthma attacks underwater. 


Bronchospasms are when your bronchi muscles tighten.

For those that skipped biology class, bronchi are the muscles that line the airways in your lungs. 

As your lungs expand on your ascent, any blockages from inflammation can rupture your lungs leading to an Air Embolism (OUCH!) from air bubbles forcing their way into your blood, which can be fatal.

Asthma Attacks 

Asthma is a lung condition which can cause breathing difficulties. If you have ever experienced an asthma attack, you will remember the panic to grab that inhaler, so you can comfortably breathe again. 

Unfortunately, underwater, inhalers do not work! So should you experience an asthma attack underwater you may not be able to surface in time, and you could drown. 

But, if you can make a sharp exit to the surface, even though you may have time to grab your inhaler, you are extremely likely to suffer from decompression sickness from ascending too fast. 

Other issues associated with trapped air include obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic lung disease, which is why people with chronic asthma are not recommended to go scuba diving, both by doctors and dive professionals.

For example, even if your doctor clears you medically fit to dive, a dive instructor or dive guide can still refuse to take you scuba diving if they feel it is not safe.

Can Scuba Diving Trigger Asthma Attacks?

Asthma attacks can be triggered underwater from the cold, dry air found in Scuba Tanks, the physical exercise required while scuba diving, and spikes in adrenaline or anxiety. 

The problem is, an asthma attack can happen for many reasons underwater, for example, they can be triggered from:

  • The cold and dry air in scuba tanks: Scuba tanks contain much drier and colder air than on land because they are designed to prevent corrosion underwater. 

Studies have shown that breathing colder air can lead to asthma attacks or breathing spasms. Some asthmatics also find it difficult to breathe through the regulator, particularly at greater depths. 

Even though most dives are not physically challenging, sometimes you can be caught off-guard and kicking will become more of an effort.

This increase in exercise is a common trigger for asthma attacks in asthmatic patients. 

  • Adrenaline and/or anxiety: Even the most experienced divers (yes, even instructors!) will have moments of feeling anxious underwater. 

The ocean is unpredictable, and when things don’t go to plan, spikes in anxiety and adrenaline usually kick in. 

If you have ever experienced an increase in adrenaline or anxiety while scuba diving, you would have noticed how much more air you consumed, and you probably started breathing irregularly. When asthmatics breathe irregularly underwater, it can also trigger asthma attacks. 

If your asthma is induced by allergens, the following can also increase the chances of having an asthma attack underwater. These include:

  • Diving in new locations. 
  • Diving during certain times of the year.
  • Diving in an area with air pollution.

If you know your asthma attacks are triggered by any of the above, you should consider whether scuba diving is for you, and speak to your doctor.

Asthma Attack Symptoms

There are many symptoms of Asthma attacks, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Whether you are a dive professional or a beginner scuba diver, you should know the signs and symptoms of asthma as your dive buddy may be asthmatic.

Remember how many people suffer from asthma, well, some of these are bound to be scuba divers…trust me. I know some asthmatic divers myself!

Signs & Symptoms of An Asthma Attack:

  • Wheezing, coughing, & chest tightness
  • Being too breathless to eat, speak or sleep
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling drowsy, confused, exhausted or dizzy
  • Blue lips or fingers/toes
  • Feeling faint, or fainting

Guidelines for Scuba Diving With Asthma

Preparing before you go scuba diving is critical as an asthmatic. Measuring your peak flow and consulting a doctor are some of the pre-dive guidelines you should follow to make scuba diving safe.

Preparing before scuba diving is part of the fun, but if you have asthma, there are a few extra things you should tick off the list, before getting geared up and heading out for that dive of a lifetime. 

Before the Dive:

  • Measure your peak flow 1-2 times a day, 3 days before your dive.
  • Only dive if your peak flow is reading normal for 48 hours, and you haven’t had to use your rescue inhaler. 
  • Use your rescue inhaler 30 minutes before your descent – this reduces the chances of you getting bronchospasm. 
  • If you notice sudden changes in your asthma, consult your doctor before scuba diving.

During the Dive:

  • If you start to feel wheezy or short of breath, hand signal to your buddy and abandon the dive. 
  • Ascend slowly, especially after the safety stop, and follow your dive computer’s ascent rate.

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:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final Thoughts

Scuba diving with a medical condition, such as asthma is possible and most experts consider scuba diving with asthma safe.

You must, however, be aware of the risks associated with scuba diving with asthma, and let your diving instructor or guide know where you are keeping your inhaler, should they need to find it in an emergency. 

So, as long as your asthma is well-controlled, and you have a fit-to-dive medical letter/certificate from your doctor, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go scuba diving with asthma. 

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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