Medical Problems

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Medical Problems

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Table of Contents

  1. Pre-existing medical problems ... ?
  2. Where can I find information ... ?
  3. How do I contact help ... ?
  4. How do I find a Recompression chamber ... ?
  5. Ear Barotrauma... ?
  6. Equalisation techniques ... ?


Medical problems that can effect divers can be divided into two categories
1) those affecting the fitness to dive.
2) problems that can develop during, or shortly after the dive.

Pre-existing health problems that can affect diving

For those wishing to take up diving, there will usually be a self-certificated health questionnaire to complete. If any issues are 'ticked' positive then it is unwise to proceed to dive training without consulting a doctor. Indeed most dive schools would find themselves in breech of their insurance if they allowed their trainees to enter the water without satisfactory paperwork and may find their governing bodies revoke their training status as well.


Many medical problems and treatments can have an adverse affect on diving. So you should check out any issues that apply to you with a doctor knowledgeable with diving.

Some conditions are so serious that the mere mention of them results in a doctor declining to sign a 'fit to dive' form. Other conditions, if mild, may only slightly increase the risk of diving and a doctor may sanction diving if the patient is fully informed about the increased risks. Other medical conditions have little impact on diving and the sufferer can safely dive.

So how can you find out information about medical problems that may increase your risk of injury or even disqualify you from diving?


Sources of information

  1. Your GP (but remember that they may have had little training in underwater medicine)

  2. A specialist dive doctor (usually contactable through a Recompression Chamber - but this may not be covered by the NHS)

  3. The Internet (whilst there is no doubt that there is a massive amount of information freely accessible on the net, do you know how reliable it is?)

  4. Diving medicine text books (can be difficult to access via public libraries, and can become out of date shortly after they are published.)

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Which do I recommend?

Bearing in mind that you probably want this information quickly and cheaply I would recommend the following websites. Whilst I make no guarantee that the information is 100% accurate and 100% relevant to your particular problem, I have found these sites to be amongst the best available.

  • Scubadoc's Diving Medicine Online - by Dr Ernest Campbell.
    This is a very comprehensive site packed full of lots of useful information from fitness problems, to marine hazards, to diving safety. There is a forum and blog site. Click here....

  • Scubamed - again a very comprehensive site with lots of useful medical information by Dr Fred Bove (one of the diving doctor elite.) I particularly like the advice section on PFO. Click here...

  • Dr Edmond Kay - Diving Medical Officer for the University of Washington Click here...
    I particularly recommend his online lecture 'The Divers Ear - Under Pressure' Click here...

  • The Divers Alert Network (DAN)  - whilst many divers may think that this organisation is just an insurance company for divers, it is in fact a very important source of both information for divers and also research. The medical information Q&A page for DAN Europe is available by clicking on the Medicine tab at  click here...

    and the American version click here...

  • Finally one other website of note is This has lots of useful information about the psychology of diving. Click here...and particularly on this site I would recommend articles by Dr Tom Griffiths, Director of Aquatics and Safety Officer for Athletics at Penn State University, especially his freely downloadable MP3 files on dealing with diver stress. Click here...



Diving induced medical problems

Thankfully most dives are completed successfully without medical mishap. However if you suspect a diving related medical problem then you are encouraged to seek competent medical advice immediately. You should bear in mind that most GP doctors and Accident & Emergency doctors have had very little, if any, diving medicine training. Therefore you would be sensible to telephone a Recompression Chamber or the Royal Navy Duty Diving Doctor for advice.

It is never advised to travel to a Recompression chamber without telephoning in advance, as they may be closed or unable to take another diver!


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Contacting Help

Before you go diving you should always know how to contact diving specific help. You may think that telephoning 999 or calling Channel 16 to the Coastguard is the only way of getting help, but it is also a good idea to know where and how to contact your nearest Recompression Chamber.


Finding your nearest Recompression Chamber

You can either contact the Royal Navy Duty Diving Doctor on 07831151523 or contact the nearest chamber directly. provides a listing of chamber around the world -  click here

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Chambers in London and the South East

The London Diving Chamber at The Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth 07940 353 816 - click here

The Centre for Defence Hyperbaric Medicine at Queen Alexandra Hospital Portsmouth 02392 762970 

Whipps Cross University Hospital Leytonstone London 07736 898066  - click here

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Some diving caused problems

Decompression illness
Ear barotrauma
Injuries from marine hazards


Ear Barotrauma


This is probably the most commonest diving injury, especially amongst novice divers. Surveys have shown that as many as 50% of new divers admit to having had problems with equalisation of their ears during or after their first few dives. Interestingly most do not report this to their instructors at the time!

Ear Barotrauma can be anything from mild to potentially fatal, mild discomfort in the ears, to perforations and catastrophic vertigo causing vomiting and drowning!

It is generally caused by equalising attempts too little and too late! The best article that covers this is by John Francis Click here...

Another useful resource is Dr Edmond Kay (Diving Medical Officer for the University of Washington) who has recorded his lecture  - 'The Divers Ear - Under Presssure' available to watch over the internet Click here...

or his online article 'Prevention of Middle Ear Barotrauma' Click here...

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How can you correct inadequate equalisation?

Divers with problems from ear barotrauma or who have had difficulty in equalisation should ideally see a doctor with an interest in diving medicine. My experience is that divers with this problem will often consult their own GP. A diagnosis of an ear infection is often made (although to be fair there may well be an infection in the ear secondary to the barotrauma by the time they consult their GP.) The initiating factor of diving and inadequately equalising their ears is often not explored.

Equalisation is not easy in all people, but research has shown that well over 96% of people can get this correct with adequate techniques and practice. 

So how do you do it? Well reading and viewing the above online resources are a very good start. Next get a device called Otovent Click here for more information. OK it looks a bit childish but even the world champion freediver Umberto Pelizzari in his book Manual of Freediving recommends doing exercises with Otovent!



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