An indication that divers should be especially cautious in contracting the Covid-19 – and in its recovery – has come from a report by a prestigious doctor in Austria. Dr. Frank Hartig, also a diver, runs the emergency unit at the University of Innsbruck Clinic and is a crisis coordinator for patients with Covid-19.

Dr. Hartig informed the Austrian Press Agency that he had observed “massive changes” in the lungs of patients who recovered from the infection, even though their cases were not considered serious enough to warrant hospital admission.

“This is shocking, we don’t understand what’s going on here,” said Dr. Hartig, who was concerned about changes in the lungs that could significantly increase the risk of underwater accidents to divers. Six active divers were among the Covid-19 patients seen in the hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, although none were considered to need hospital treatment. After several weeks, all six were declared to have recovered and showed no symptoms beyond cough and “poor performance.” However, according to Dr. Hartig, his lung CT scans suggested that the damage sustained could be “irreversible.” “They are probably lifelong patients,” said Dr. Hartig. “As an ER doctor with 20 years of experience, you swallow when you see something like that in a 40-year-old patient.”

Two of the divers showed significant oxygen deficiency when under stress, usually a sign of persistent pulmonary bypass. Two others showed the type of symptoms generally observed in asthmatics, and in four cases the examinations revealed such significant changes in the lungs that Dr. Hartig had to consult with the X-ray department that the files had not been mixed. The doctor commented that he wanted to issue a warning to all divers because, although he could not say how long the effects would last, he found it difficult to believe that his patients’ lungs could fully heal.

“After a Covid infection, even if you have only had mild symptoms and your medical certification to dive is valid, you should ask a hyperbaric doctor to examine you again before diving,” said Dr. Hartig. He also warned about diving with elevated oxygen levels, like when we use nitrox, suggesting that it could be dangerous if the lung tissue is still sensitive. Dr. Harting also commented that any coronavirus patient who wants to dive again soon should be very cautious, because studies Scientists will not be available before 2021.


Article appeared in the magazine Diver June 2020 issue.

Adapted by Maribel Martín (PADI Open Water 1811UP9187).