Hot on the heels of Siân Jones’ inspirational story about becoming an MSD at 16 and then a Divemaster soon after her 18th birthday, 17-year-old Niamh Craig discusses conquering asthma to learn to dive
The question ‘is it possible to dive with asthma?’ must be one of the most-queried among aspiring divers. Under the intense pressure of the water, diving with respiratory problems is a daunting thought; at least, it was for me.
November 2015, I pushed myself and signed up for a conservation expedition to Borneo in South-East Asia working to improve facilities in rural villages. In addition to our charity work, our group had the incredible opportunity to complete a PADI Open Water Diver course on the breath-taking Gaya Island. There was only one issue… my asthma!
My 18-month journey to diving began with a standard trip to my GP, who proceeded to explain the dangers associated with what I wanted to achieve, concluding with a ‘no’ to the PADI OWD course. From various friends in the industry, I had been told it was 100 percent safe to dive as long as the asthma was under control and I could secure a certificate from a specialist. Determined, I then continued with my journey by following whispers of a specialist diving doctor in Birkenhead.
Since being diagnosed at the age of 11, I had controlled my asthma using both Clenil (brown) and Salbutamol (blue) inhalers with no serious issues, giving me an optimistic outlook about securing a certificate from a specialist. After tests that included height, weight, blood pressure and strenuous physical exercises, I did indeed secure the certificate that allowed me to dive. One of the areas to check was my peak-flow (which measures how much you can breathe out, therefore making it possible to see how well or not your lungs are working) before and after exercise, which I had to continue to monitor throughout the year. If my peak-flow results dropped below ten percent, my lungs wouldn’t be able to cope with the strain of diving.
With that in mind, I decided my next stage was to undertake a ‘trydive’ in a swimming pool in Knutsford with Yu Diving to make sure that I could cope without having an asthma attack. There, I was taught the basics and how to operate the seemingly complicated equipment. The instructors were friendly and knowledgeable, resulting in me picking it up quickly and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience, which only increased my excitement for my expedition to Borneo.
One year on, I had the set back of discovering that my certificate only lasted for one year, meaning it wouldn’t be valid for my trip in the summer of 2017. Deciding it was worth it, I booked the same diving doctor for another appointment. Again, I underwent a series of tests to analyse the stability of my asthma. I was sitting fingers crossed hoping the result would match that of the previous year. Thankfully, I had not let my asthma defeat me and it was still under control, meaning that I could dive as long as I upped the dosage of the brown inhalers to two doses twice a day, which as it turns out worked wonders for my everyday breathing – an excellent bonus.
Fast forward to ‘the’ summer, the summer of 2017, when my 18 months of continuous fundraising and determined efforts to dive would finally pay off. On our second week in Borneo, we arrived at our camp on Gaya Island ready to kickstart our once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sadly, my week did no pan out quite as smoothly as I had planned, as my first dive brought about problems with equalising and discomfort in my ears. Although I was in excruciating pain for the first night, I decided to give diving another go the next day, as after everything I had overcome, to be in that position, I wanted to give it my all. On our second dive, we progressed into deeper waters where we caught sight of the most-beautiful tropical fish, but unfortunately this had a negative impact on my ears. I couldn’t equalise my ears properly, which only caused me more pain, and so I had to admit defeat and content myself with snorkelling. Although I was unable to complete the PADI Open Water Diver course, the fact that my asthma played no part in it kept my morale up through my non-diving activities. Now, I am contemplating how, and where, I can take a second shot at this elusive entry-level diving qualification!