SCUBA Diving with Type 1 Diabetes — You Can Do It!

7/1/15
WRITTEN BY: Brian Novak
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I love to go on adventures in the outdoors! Having T1D can sometimes be its own adventure but I have never let it stop me from setting out on some truly amazing experiences. One of my very favorite ways to live beyond type 1 is by scuba diving. I received my PADI open water certification in 2008. I have been diving in the US, Honduras, Panama and Thailand. Of all the adventures I’ve had, nothing is quite as unique as diving. I love it! With some education, training and a little planning, diving is something that most people with diabetes should be able to do.

This was not always the case. Before 1997, the Diver Alert Network (DAN) advised people with insulin-dependent diabetes against diving because of the threat of a hypoglycemic episode underwater. This is a very real danger and should be taken seriously. But with proper planning this danger can easily be avoided. Since 1997 DAN has changed their stance on diving with diabetes and now provides a set of guidelines to help people dive safely. You can find DAN’s complete guidelines for diabetics here.

Here are a few of my own recommendations based on my experience:

It’s always best to check with your doctor before learning to scuba dive to make sure you are physically able to do so. Most dive centers will require a note from your doctor that says you’re ok to dive.

Getting Your Open Water Certification

  • Find a reputable PADI or SSI dive center that has experience training people with diabetes. Make sure they understand the implications of having T1D.
  • Try to find a smaller group to train with.
  • Make sure that your dive instructor knows that you have T1D.
  • Use the “L” on the forehead signal to let your dive instructor know if you are low when you are diving so you can resurface. You’re not a loser but you might have low blood sugar! As always, with any diver, it’s important to resurface slowly with a safety stop (3 min stop at 15ft) to avoid decompression sickness.
  • Do not rush through the training or feel pressure to get through it quickly. It’s important that you have a very solid understanding of what diving involves.
  • I did my initial training and pool dives in Colorado and completed my open water certification in Roatan, Honduras. Going on a vacation to complete your open water certification is awesome!

Going on a Dive

  • You want to have stable blood sugar no less than 150 mg/dL (8.3 mmol/L) before diving.  If you are trending downward DO NOT DIVE.
  • I personally never bolus within 2hrs of a dive. This is something you should discuss with your doctor.
  • Make sure your dive buddy knows that you have T1D and understands the “L” sign.
  • Diving is physically and mentally demanding. It can be intense. You should always take your time, double check your gear before the dive, and breathe slowly and continuous while diving. Don’t forget to breathe! 🙂
  • Drink lots of water! It’s important to stay hydrated before and during a dive.
  • If you are new to diving leave your GoPro or camera behind. These are distractions.
  • Nitrogen Narcosis is a condition that can happen at lower depths (most commonly below 100ft) that can produce a state of “drunkenness” which could be confused with low blood sugar.
    If you experience this, slowly ascend to a shallower depth.
  • Log all your dives, making sure to include information about your blood sugar.
  • I keep energy gels in my vest in case of an emergency.
  • Relax and have fun!

I have seen some amazing things while diving . . . beautiful coral reefs, sharks, dolphins, eagle rays, manta rays, sea turtles, eels, shipwrecks, and so many fishes! The list goes on and on. I’m really glad I learned to scuba dive. If you have any interest I highly recommend getting certified. Feel free to email me with any questions: boulderbrian@yahoo.com


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Brian Novak

Brian is an adventurer currently based out of Colorado.