Much has been written about the consequences of flying after diving, there are all kind of views about it. Beside of medical explanations more or less understandable and above all much misinformation. In this post we will talk a little about what happens after diving, not only when catching a plane, but also when climbing a mountain, etc. For us traveling divers, we must make it clear about some concepts.
There is no need to say that, whenever you make a trip to dive in the splendid reefs that our planet has, you will have to fly. When you go, you obviously have no physical problem other than tiredness, sleep and the “tourist class syndrome” because of the little space in your seat to move around. But on the way back, that you are more or less charged with residual Nitrogen, things change quite a lot. It is not my intention to do a master class in physics nevertheless, we consider interesting to review some basics in order to know what happens to our body under water and the possible consequences of not doing everything correctly.
As we all know, when we dive our body becomes saturated with nitrogen bubbles. This nitrogen must disappear from our body, which normally happens after a few hours (not less than eleven), depending on the number of dives we have made, the depth of diving reached, the time in the sea bottom and the gas mixture used. No matter how hard you have dived that, after 24 hours there should no longer be any significant remnants of residual nitrogen in our system.
When we take a plane, this is usually pressurized to the equivalent of being approximately 2,438 meters above sea level (depends on each plane). This means that we have less pressure than at sea level and therefore, some microbubble of Nitrogen that we have generated during the dive can get out of hand by increasing in size due to the lower pressure and fuss in our body. This is basically the reason why we should wait a reasonable time before flying once we have dived, in order to have as few Nitrogen bubbles as possible or better to have none.
The latest studies on this matter, conclude that the waiting time before flying are as follows:
- One dive without “deco” and respecting the safety stop, we need a waiting time at least 12 hours before flying.
- Successive dives without “deco” and respecting safety stops, waiting time at least 18 hours before flying.
- Dives with decompression, waiting time at least 24 hours before flying.
It is possibly to shorten a little if you dive with Nitrox, but this would be the “standard” for recreational diving either air or Nitrox.
Something that divers often forget is that, just like you cannot fly immediately after diving, you cannot climb mountains or dive in freediving either. You must stay at sea level, since climbing a mountain can mean less pressure and therefore, risk that a microbubble gets bigger and block any artery
It is highly advisable to take your diving computer whenever you travel, in the “life on board” trips you will be forced to do it. In case that, you do not have yours you will have to rent it. Your computer knows what you have been doing down there and has your entire immersion profile, so that if something happens, the hyperbaric doctor on duty would be able to connect to your dive computer and, this way, will know where you have the problem and act accordingly. This is basic to a possible disbaric accident, since knowing in time if your problem is the tissues, muscles or nervous system can save your life. For this reason, always carry the dive computer with you back home and have it at hand because, if something happens to you during the flight, it is better to have it near you. At home, do not lose sight of it due to the fact, that a problem related to decompression can occur even after 48 hours of grounding.