SCUBA Diving and Asthma: Clinical Recommendations and Safety

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2016 Feb;50(1):18-22. doi: 10.1007/s12016-015-8474-y.


The objective of this article is to review the available studies regarding asthma and SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving. A literature search was conducted in MEDLINE to identify peer-reviewed articles related to asthma and SCUBA diving using the following keywords: asthma, allergy, and SCUBA diving. SCUBA diving is a popular sport with more than 9 million divers in the USA. SCUBA diving can be a dangerous sport. Bronchospasm can develop in asthmatic patients and cause airway obstruction. Airway obstruction may be localized to the distal airway which prevents gas elimination. Uncontrolled expansion of the distal airway may result in pulmonary barotrauma. There is also the risk of a gas embolism. Asthmatic divers can also aspirate seawater which may induce bronchospasm. Pollen contamination of their oxygen tank may exacerbate atopic asthma in patients. Diving may be hazardous to the lung function of patients with asthma. Despite the risks of SCUBA diving, many asthmatic individuals can dive without serious diving events. Diving evaluations for asthmatic patients have focused on a thorough patient history, spirometry, allergy testing, and bronchial challenges. For patients that wish to dive, their asthma should be well controlled without current chest symptoms. Patients should have a normal spirometry. Some diving societies recommend that an asthmatic patient should successfully pass a bronchial provocation challenge. Recommendations also state that exercise-, emotion-, and cold-induced asthmatics should not dive. Asthmatic patients requiring rescue medication within 48 h should not dive.

Keywords: Allergy; Asthma; SCUBA diving.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Asthma / metabolism
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Physical Fitness