Can I fly after scuba diving?

We are asked this question often. When is it safe to fly? If I book a dive on Friday can I fly on Saturday? If I dive in the morning can I fly in the afternoon? When is it safe to fly? The answer to those questions varies depending on where you get the information from. So maybe the right question should be:

How long after scuba diving should I wait before I can fly?

Unfortunately, as said before, there’s not a straight answer to these questions, to give you a rough idea about it:

The U.S Navy recommends waiting at least two hours before boarding your plane, while the U.S Air Force says to wait 24 hours, The Divers Alert Network (DAN) recommends waiting at least 12 hours before ascending to high altitude.

airplane wing

What happens if I don’t wait enough time to fly after diving?

Yes, the airplane cabins are pressurized, but in many cases, the pressurization won’t totally compensate for the changes your body goes through while ascending to high altitude.

Ascending to high altitude after scuba diving increases your risk of suffering from decompression sickness. Flying after diving increases this risk because of the decreasing atmospheric pressure. When we dive we are at sea level pressure, our body accommodates to this atmospheric level and we accumulate tiny bubbles, as we ascend in an airplane the atmospheric pressure changes and our body can rapidly suffer from decompression, we decompensate and thеsе tiny bubbles expand.

Nitrogen gets accumulated in our body during the dive. (Due to the nitrogen and other inert gases in their breathing mix). The deeper and longer we dive, the more of these gasses accumulate in the form of tiny bubbles in our bodies.

So, if you catch a flight immediately after scuba diving without waiting a sufficient amount of time for my body to accommodate, these small bubbles of inert gas could expand (due to the reduction in pressure with altitude) and could cause decompression sickness (decompression illness).

Where should I go if I have decompression sickness?

First of all, it is really important that you are really careful with timing your dives at flights, at all costs. Decompression sickness can be a very delicate situation.

In case you are experiencing decompression, it is very important to seek professional medical help and emergency treatment. This, among other medical procedures, would involve positioning the patient on the left side of the body with the head tilted down, maintaining blood pressure and administering oxygen.

Some symptoms of decompression sickness (decompression illness) are:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Skin itch
  • Pain in joints and / or muscles of the arms, legs or torso
  • Dizziness, vertigo, ringing in the ears
  • Numbness, tingling and paralysis
  • Shortness of breath

 

The early treatment of an air embolism and decompression sickness is the same but a diver with severe decompression sickness requires urgent recompression for definitive treatment, it is essential to get stabilized at the nearest hospital or medical facility to avoid neurological damage and then, in case it is necessary, be transported to a hyperbaric chamber.

After suffering from decompression sickness with no neurological damage involved, a minimum of two weeks without diving is recommended, so be conscious about what your body needs. So make sure you give yourself enough time, as diving is meant to be fun. And that’s what we always try to do when we take you diving in the Carribean sea or cenotes.