Diving: What to Tell the Patient With Asthma and Why?

Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2001 Jan;7(1):32-8. doi: 10.1097/00063198-200101000-00006.


Until a decade ago, divers with asthma were uniformly barred from diving with compressed air. This prohibition was based more on theoretical concerns for barotrauma than on actual data. Follow-up studies, although retrospective, do not support a ban on recreational or commercial diving for divers with stable asthma. These studies have noted that, despite the prohibition on diving, many divers with asthma have logged multiple dives without negative consequences. When those who have suffered diving-related barotrauma have undergone physiologic testing, measurements of small airways dysfunction (maximal mid-expiratory flow rates) have been lower than measurements for comparable divers who have never suffered diving accidents. Follow-up studies with long-term commercial divers have shown that a small percentage of individuals who have sufferred diving-related barotrauma also develop abnormal maximal mid-expiratory flow rates and even some airway hyperreactivity. These latter findings correlate with the changes that occur in chronic asthmatic patients, especially those who are not well treated. The decision as to whether an asthmatic patient should be allowed to dive rests on the individual's physiologic function, maturity, and insight into the consequences of poorly managed airway inflammation and bronchospasm.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / complications
  • Asthma / diagnosis*
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Barotrauma / epidemiology*
  • Barotrauma / etiology*
  • Causality
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Injury*
  • Male
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors