What is gastroenteritis?
An upset tummy, or gastroenteritis, is a common ailment particularly when diving in tropical locations. It can present with diarrhoea, vomiting, or both, and is often accompanied by abdominal cramping, fever, tiredness and loss of appetite. It is caused by bacteria or viruses causing irritation within the bowel, and can range from mild and short-lived, to possibly fatal dehydration.
Can I dive with gastroenteritis?
Diving with gastroenteritis is generally not recommended. The reasons for this vary with symptoms.
- Vomiting: although most modern regulators have one-way valves allowing vomit to exit your regulator and for you to continue breathing from your tank, there is still a risk of aspiration (inhaling vomit) and a risk of panicking underwater
- Diarrhoea: unpleasant for obvious reasons
- Dehydration: diving while dehydrated increases your risk of a ‘bend’
- Fever: increases your metabolic rate, meaning your air consumption is greater, as well as clouding your judgement
Once you are symptom-free and well-hydrated (ie your urine is clear), you should be OK to dive again.
What if I take medication?
Medication for gastroenteritis comes in many forms. Most commonly people take loperamide (immodium) to help with diarrhoea, and anti-sickness medication to help with nausea and vomiting.
There are no definite risks in taking loperamide before a dive. Be aware that you must stay hydrated though, it does not always work, and it causes some people to be constipated. It should never be taken if you have severe abdominal cramps or bloody diarrhoea though, in which case you should see a doctor urgently.
Be aware of anti-sickness tablets with sedative effects as these can cause drowsiness and should be avoided while diving. In terms of non-sedating anti-sickness medication, there are such a broad spectrum of reasons these may be taken and so many different types, it would be worth speaking to a dive medicine physician before diving on these.
It is also worth bearing in mind that you can remain infectious up to 48 hours after your symptoms resolve and so your bug can be passed on to others. Avoid contact with other people during this time if possible and maintain strict hand hygiene at all times.