Background: Approximately 10 to 15 million Americans are scuba divers. The prevalence of scuba diving and asthma makes it likely some asthmatics will be interested in scuba diving and some scuba divers will have asthma. Conditions present during scuba diving may provoke airway obstruction in asthmatic patients. Further, asthmatic patients may, in theory, face a greater than normal risk of pulmonary barotrauma from lung overdistension on ascent through the water column.
Objective: The purpose of this paper is to review the theoretical issues underlying the prohibition against scuba diving for asthmatic patients as advanced by most major diving organizations in the United States and critically examine the relevant accident data.
Methods: All reports that dealt with asthma and diving, and all available American accident data including both fatal and nonfatal accidents were reviewed.
Results: Actuarial data on the risk of scuba accidents attributable to asthma do not define several important variables likely to affect accident risk during scuba diving. Despite these limitations, careful review indicates the risks of serious morbidity or mortality during scuba diving appears to be inconsequentially elevated in subjects whose asthma was not characterized.
Conclusions: Additional data are needed to define accurately risks of diving in subjects with different forms of asthma, however, the available data suggest asthmatic patients with normal airway function at rest, and with little airway reactivity in response to exercise or cold air inhalation, have a risk of pulmonary barotrauma similar to that of normal subjects.