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The Risk of Diving with Leukemia & Antibiotic Use While Diving


Scuba diver

I was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent treatment. I am in remission and was recently cleared by my doctors for exercise without restriction. I feel well and need only scheduled follow-up. I have always wanted to scuba dive but am unsure given my condition and subsequent treatment. Can I dive, and are there any restrictions or precautions l should be aware of?

A: Symptoms associated with leukemia include dizziness, fatigue, fever, weakness, weight loss, anemia, easy bruising and bleeding, shortness of breath and infections. Clearly, these all have the potential to affect one’s well-being while diving. You and your doctor should consider two important criteria. First, diving should be considered only for patients who are in remission – as you are. It’s important that all divers be free from any distracting or disabling symptoms. Second, it is important that you and your physician confirm that you are not only in good health but also have good exercise tolerance. As you may know, many dive accidents result from challenges posed by the diving environment such as currents, surface swims, and weather and sea conditions. All divers must be prepared to face such challenges before returning to the water.

My wife and I love to travel to exotic destinations, and my previous doctor used to give me antibiotics in case I got sick in a remote location. I have a new primary care physician who is hesitant to do this. What does DAN recommend?

A: For some time now prescribing guidelines regarding antibiotic use for various conditions have favoured a much more conservative approach due to increasing antibiotic resistance. Many illnesses are viral in nature, and antibiotics are of no benefit in these cases. If you get sick while travelling, a local physician is your best resource; he or she will be aware of the common pathogens that cause problems in the area you are visiting.

When travelling, your best defences against illness are handwashing, careful sourcing of water and food, getting relevant travel immunizations and taking appropriate precautions in areas where mosquitoes and other living organisms can transmit infectious diseases to humans. Talk to your doctor or visit a travel medicine clinic if you will be going to a region in which medical care is lacking. The doctor can advise you about any medications you should take with you and when to use them.


This article was originally published in Scuba Diver UK #69.

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