Dr Oli: Diving and bronchiectasis
I need to do a PADI refresher course before I go to Barbados next year. I have my advanced Open Water Diving certification, but I also have a query.
I have mild bronchiectasis which I have had for about 16 years. I am told my lung capacity is good for my height and age, and I do a lot of altitude hiking with no problems. But my respiratory consultant has said I should get advice about whether it is OK for me to dive again, and if so whether I should restrict this to 12m, or go for 45m. I control exacerbations by taking Azithromycin on a regular basis.
Can you advise please?
As I'm sure you are aware, bronchiectasis is characterised by permanent enlargement of parts of the airways of the lung, with variable symptoms including breathlessness, mucus production, chest pains, coughing up blood, and frequent lung infections. The diving-specific risks primarily involve trapping of air in the affected lung tissue, which can cause lung damage on ascent as the gas expands. This damage could result in a collapsed lung or gas embolism.
For these reasons most physicians would not recommend diving with the condition once it becomes symptomatic or impairs lung function. However, in very mild cases, with no abnormalities on lung function testing, then careful and controlled diving might still be possible. I don't personally believe in arbitrary depth restrictions, but I would advise keeping the dives on the shallower and shorter ends of the spectrum.
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