Written by DAN staff
Few divers can claim to have never used over-the-counter (OTC) drugs before a dive. Whether it’s a decongestant to deal with allergy symptoms or aspirin to deal with sore muscle, OTC drugs are perceived be less of a concern than prescription drugs. As a dive professional, you know there are risks associated with using OTC drugs before diving. What you don’t always know, however, is when students are self-medicating to make it possible to complete a dive or finish a course. By being clear about the effects of OTC drugs and sharing that information with your student divers, you can help them make good decisions during and after training.
Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine, are most often used to provide symptomatic relief of allergies, colds and motion sickness. Antihistamines often have side effects that include dryness of the mouth, nose and throat, visual disturbances, drowsiness, or undesired sedation and depression. They can also depress the central nervous system (CNS) and impair a diver’s ability to think clearly.
Decongestants are vasoconstricting drugs that narrow the blood vessels of the nasal airways and often temporarily improve breathing. Common active ingredients include pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine. Decongestants may cause mild CNS stimulation and side effects like nervousness, excitability, restlessness, dizziness, weakness, and a forceful or rapid heartbeat. These drugs may have significant undesirable effects on divers, and should be avoided by individuals with diabetes, asthma, or cardiovascular disease.
Anti-Inflammatories and Analgesics
These drugs are typically used for temporary relief of minor aches and pains. Keep in mind that these may relieve symptoms, but the injury is still present. Limitations in range of motion due to an injury, swelling or pain can put a diver at risk of additional injury. Active ingredients include naproxen sodium and ibuprofen, with side effects such as heartburn, nausea, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness and drowsiness. These should be avoided by individuals with heartburn, ulcers, bleeding problems or asthma. They may also have interactions with individuals using anticoagulants, insulin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).
While in many cases the use of these drugs is warranted and relatively low-risk, unwanted side effects, drug reactions and reactions to increased partial pressures of nitrogen can raise injury risk during a dive. Susceptibility to adverse side effects can vary greatly from person to person, and divers should refrain from taking a new medication for the first time before diving. Many medical professionals will advise anyone who requires medication in order to dive to wait until symptoms resolve to resume diving. If you have any questions about the safety of an OTC drug, seek an evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional.
For more information on OTC drugs and diving, or safe diving practices, visit DAN.org/Health