Pre-Dive Medications May Put Scuba Divers at Risk
By Marilyn Bitomsky

MELBOURNE (Reuters Health) - A survey of over 700 scuba divers in Australia and the United States has found that many put themselves at risk by taking medication just before a dive, although more research is needed to determine the exact level of risk they face.

The body processes medication differently in the high-pressure underwater environment, researchers from the Emergency Department of the Austin and Repatriation Medical Center and Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center note. And the way some drugs are metabolized, they explain, could interfere with a person's fitness to dive.

Dr. Simone Taylor and her colleagues conducted a postal survey of 346 Australia and 363 US dive club members. Most were between the ages of 31 and 50, and had been diving for at least 8 years.

Although authorities recommend avoiding medications prior to scuba diving due to the potential for altered effects on the body in the underwater environment, this survey found divers were taking a variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications daily, including within 2 hours of diving.

Reporting the study at a conference of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Taylor said one quarter of divers took medications daily.

Almost 10% in this survey took medication for cardiac disease or hypertension (8.9%) and 2.8% took asthma medication.

Taylor was also surprised to find that 0.3% took medication for epilepsy and 0.7% took drugs for diabetes.
Many divers regularly took nasal decongestants and pseudoephedrine such as Sudafed within 2 hours of diving, and medication to prevent seasickness and barotrauma-injury caused by shifts in pressure, such as "the bends"--was also common.

She said some differences were noted between Australian and US divers, probably reflecting differences in the ages and state of health of the groups and also differences in availability of drugs.

For example, pseudoephedrine is sold only in pharmacies in Australia but can be obtained in dive shops in the US.