15 February 2021
As divers we have many questions about Covid-19. Have I had COVID and has it caused any long-lasting effects? Will the vaccine keep me safe for diving? Will it affect my diving in the future?
What is COVID?
COVID-19 is caused by a virus transmitted in droplets from the mouth, throat and airways. Since its emergence in November 2019 COVID has spread around the world impacting people’s health and mental wellbeing, global economies and closing your local dive shop. Our understanding of the disease is still very rudimentary but is gradually advancing.
If I’ve had COVID, what are the lasting effects?
Being less than 18 months since COVID was discovered there are no studies as yet as to what happens to your lungs after a mild COVID infection where you did not need to be admitted to hospital. The few studies thus far show people who need to go to hospital and have oxygen are more likely to have serious inflammation and residual scarring in their lungs. This could lead to shortness of breath, fatigue and decreased lung function up to 2 years after infection.
It is this damage to the lungs that we are most worried about when thinking about your safety when diving as it can lead to trapped gas and a risk of pneumothorax, decrease your ability to exercise or get gas in and out of your blood. There could also be other lasting effects of the virus such as damage to the heart or fatigue that can be very disabling and is increasingly being called “Long COVID”.
So can I dive after COVID or after having my COVID vaccination?
It is a real challenge to advise divers what is and isn’t safe right now. For those who haven’t had COVID, prevention is better than cure and once we are all vaccinated the hope is we will be able to get back to normal. Despite boat operators’ best efforts to reduce contact amongst divers in cramped conditions, the COVID-19 virus can still be accidentally shared. Comprehensive advice is available on the BSAC website.
The vaccine studies are really encouraging and suggest they prevent the vast majority who get the virus from having symptoms or needing a hospital admission. We don’t know yet if the vaccine stops you transmitting COVID with no symptoms and until we know how effective the vaccine is in the real-world, social distancing and safety measures will have to continue on dive trips.
And what about if you’ve had COVID?
The UK Diving Medical Committee (UKDMC), a team of experienced diving doctors, have come up with some guidance for you and your local dive doctor to follow.
If you have had COVID and didn’t need to go to hospital, it’s still a good idea to take some time out of the water while your lungs and body recover – at least 3 months not diving and if you don’t feel back to 100% to give it longer. If you were admitted to hospital, we currently advise up to a year out of the water.
Once you feel good to go, it’s important to see a diving doctor before getting back to diving, especially if you were symptomatic or admitted to hospital. (DDRC Healthcare Diving Doctor telephone consultation can be booked here.) If there is any residual scarring in your lungs it could lead to an injury to your lungs during pressure changes underwater. Do remember after a period out of the water it’s worth easing your way back into diving. The other safety aspects of the sport still apply and try to get back to your baseline fitness after all these months of lockdown before any demanding dives.
Even though we don’t know a huge amount about the long-lasting effects of the virus if you haven’t had COVID since the start of the pandemic it’s likely you’ll be able to get back to diving without any issue. If you think you have had Covid, see your diving doctor and they will help to get you back in the water.