Diving Health – Scuba Diving with Diabetes
Diving with diabetes
Years ago if you had diabetes type 1 or 2, then scuba diving was a no no for you. Now with modern medicine and correct diet, diving with diabetes is possible in some cases, even type 1, providing that you have sign off from your doctor.
What is diabetes?
When we eat food, it is broken down in glucose or sugar. You need some glucose to help regulate your metabolism and give you energy.
During digestion, glucose moves through the body through the bloodstream to feed your cells. To be able to transfer the Blood sugar into the cells, your body needs insulin, which is made by the Pancreas and released into the bloodstream.
The problem happens when you have too much blood sugar in your body compared to the amount of insulin your pancreas is providing.
Diabetes is where your body is not making enough or no insulin to keep up with the amount of sugar in your bloodstream; the glucose in the blood remains there and causes your blood sugar levels to elevate.
Why is your blood sugar level important?
Amongst other complications, too high or too low blood sugar can cause a person to slip into a diabetic coma. That is why diabetics must take readings of their blood sugar levels and compensate any imbalance with food, exercise or insulin.
Why is monitoring your blood sugar complicated by diving?
When you are scuba diving with diabetes you cannot immediately return to the surface if you feel unwell. Also some of the signs of low blood sugar such as sweating are masked by the water. Another symptom is confusion and disorientation; these are also symptoms of nitrogen narcosis, so divers with diabetes are advised not to dive deep.
Underwater conditions are sometimes unknown in terms of currents and temperature which both have an effect on how quickly you burn sugar and there is no way to test your blood underwater.
What precautions should be taken?
The diabetic diver should always alert the trip leader and his/her buddy of their condition. A glucose pen should be carried on board the boat in case the diver slips into a coma. The buddy should be briefed regarding a quick sugar fix such as fruit juice on the boat. While scuba diving, the diver and buddy should carry glucose packs that can be ingested underwater.
Before scuba diving, the diabetic diver should take a reading of their sugar level and slightly elevate it by eating a small amount such as a banana or slice of apple to compensate for the amount of energy used during the dive.
Diabetes type 1 is a life changing condition, but properly monitored and controlled scuba diving with diabetes is possible and there are PADI Instructors with diving careers and type 1 diabetes.