Objectives: Several cross-sectional studies have described a decrease in the expiratory flow rates of divers. The objective of this study was to determine whether the combined application of high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) and lung function testing supports the reported development of small airway obstruction in divers.
Methods: Thirty-two navy divers, 27 commercial divers, and 48 referents matched for age and smoking history underwent pulmonary function testing and HRCT of the lungs supplemented by a limited number of expiratory scans. The commercial divers were older and dived longer than the navy divers. Multivariate regression analysis was used to assess the relevant correlations of age, height, pack-years of cigarette smoking, and indices of diving exposure with lung function parameters.
Results: The inspiratory vital capacity and forced vital capacity (FVC) were greater, while the FEV% [(100 x FEV10)FVC] and maximum expiratory flow (MEF) at 25% (MEF25) of the FVC were lower for the navy divers than for the referents. The lung volumes and expiratory airflow pattern did not differ between the commercial divers and the corresponding referents. The forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV10), FEV%, MEF75, and MEF25 correlated negatively with the years of diving experience. This association was independent of age, height, and pack-years of cigarette smoking. For the majority of the divers and referents the expiratory HRCT revealed minor lobular air trapping without any difference between the groups. The HRCT did not show relevant morphologic abnormalities of small or large airways.
Conclusions: The data confirm that diving may affect pulmonary function. However, there is no radiologic evidence for the development of small airway disease in these 2 subgroups of divers.