I was sitting at a coffee shop next to a local dive center when I overheard a frightening conversation. A dive instructor was going over the medical questionnaire for scuba diving with his students. One of the students read the question about asthma and diving. He was unsure whether he should truthfully answer that he had a history of very mild asthma, which would require that he be cleared by a doctor before diving. To my shock, the instructor told him just to answer "no" and go on the dive because "everything would probably be just fine" and he had "taken other students with asthma diving in the past and it was okay". Sometimes, especially in resort locations, divers and instructors treat the scuba diving medical release form as a simple formality. They act as if its only purpose it to release dive professionals from liability in case a diver is injured due to a preexisting medical condition. This is not the point of the medical release form.
The purpose of the medical release form is to check that divers do not have any preexisting medical conditions that would risk their becoming seriously injured or killed underwater. Some of the questions address conditions that obviously could be risky for diving (for example lung injuries) and other questions are related to less obvious issues such as medications, pacemakers, and nervous system disorders. Any question on the medical release form should be answered truthfully. The questions were selected by diving doctors who know more about diving medicine than you or your instructor does (unless your instructor is also a medical doctor who understands diving medicine). Don't let anyone, not even your instructor, talk you into lying on the medical form.
A diver who answers in the affirmative to a condition on the diving medical questionnaire is not automatically forbidden to dive. Many conditions, such as high blood pressure and asthma, may be compatible with diving when treated with diving-approved medicines. However, to eliminate unnecessary risk it is vital that divers with any of these conditions see a diving doctor before diving. Sometimes a condition, such as elbow pain, might not seem like a contraindication for diving, but the cause behind the elbow pain (for example a rare, pressure sensitive degenerative bone disease) may be. Only a diving doctor can adequately assess a diver's medical history and prescribed medications. In many cases a doctor will give approval to dive despite a positive answer on the medical questionnaire.
The diving medical questionnaire should be reviewed periodically. Not all divers who hold a scuba diving certification are physically fit to dive. Once certified, many divers never look at the diving medical questionnaire again. People get old; medical conditions change. Certified divers should periodically review the medical questionnaire to make sure they are still fit to dive. It would be unfortunate to have to stop diving because of a medical condition, but it would be far more unfortunate to become seriously injured or die because of ignorance that the condition is contraindicated for diving.
Diving with the conditions listed on the diving medical questionnaire could be life-threatening. Even seemingly harmless conditions on the medical questionnaire need to be evaluated by a diving doctor on a case by case basis because every diver's medical history and physical condition is different. Diving is fantastic, but there is nothing underwater worth dying for. As an instructor, I beg you to answer the medical questionnaire truthfully. If you haven't looked over the questionnaire recently, do so. There may be some questions that now apply to you.
Have you ever lied on the diving medical questionnaire? Do you think it is okay to do so?
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