Asthma and recreational SCUBA diving: a systematic review

Sports Med. 2003;33(2):109-16. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333020-00003.


Asthma has traditionally been a contraindication to recreational self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) diving, although large numbers of patients with asthma partake in diving. The purpose of this paper is to review all the research relevant to the issue of the safety of asthma in divers. MEDLINE and MDConsult were searched for papers between 1980-2002. Keywords used for the search were 'asthma', 'SCUBA' and 'diving'. Additional references were reviewed from the bibliographies of received articles.A total of fifteen studies were identified as relevant to the area. These included three surveys of divers with asthma, four case series and eight mechanistic investigations of the effect of diving on pulmonary function. The survey data showed a high prevalence of asthma among recreational SCUBA divers, similar to the prevalence of asthma among the general population. There was some weak evidence for an increase in rates of decompression illness among divers with asthma. In healthy participants, wet hyperbaric chamber and open-water diving led to a decrease in forced vital capacity, forced expired volume over 1.0 second and mid-expiratory flow rates. In participants with asymptomatic respiratory atopy, diving caused a decrease in airway conductivity.There is some indication that asthmatics may be at increased risk of pulmonary barotrauma, but more research is necessary. Decisions regarding diving participation among asthmatics must be made on an individual basis involving the patient through informed, shared decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Decision Making
  • Diving*
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate / physiology
  • Prevalence
  • Vital Capacity / physiology