Monday, April 8, 2013

SCUBA and Asthma Don’t Mix

by Kelley Lindberg

My son has mild asthma, along with his food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and lupine flour. He takes daily medications to keep it controlled, and it’s so well controlled I have a tendency to forget about it. I do make sure he has his inhaler with him when he goes to soccer practice, and only rarely will he feel the need to use it. But for the most part, his asthma is pretty much off my worry-radar most of the time.

So that’s my excuse for winning the bad-mama award a few weeks ago.

My son has wanted to take SCUBA lessons for years. This year, I finally decided to let him. He’s an amazing snorkeler and swimmer, so SCUBA seemed like the logical progression. So I signed him up with a local SCUBA shop, and he started working on the online (reading/quiz) part of the course over the weekend, to prepare for the in-the-pool portion of the course that was coming up in a week.

As he excitedly started burning through the book-larnin’ part of the class, I started filling out the permission release and medical voucher. That’s when I saw it: The innocent little checkbox next to “asthma.”

If I checked any of the checkboxes on the form, I needed to get a medical release signed by his doctor. So I contacted my son’s allergist/asthma specialist and asked for his opinion.

He knows my son well and has been treating him for years. And his opinion was “No."

“No? Really?” I asked.

“No,” he repeated. He was reluctant to give me the bad news, but he was concerned about my son, so I really appreciated his honesty. One of the things he said was that he’s a big fan of NOT letting asthma restrict you from activities you love – one of his goals for treating patients is to help them live as normal of a life as possible. But then he went on to say that even though he doesn’t want to restrict people from activities, SCUBA is probably one of the few activities he really believes in restricting. The pressure in the lungs can cause serious damage if anything goes wrong.

He said if my son’s pulmonary function tests were better (and they’re okay, but not perfect), and if he weren’t still growing, and if he weren’t having to use daily meds to keep him where he is, we could consider it. But for now, the risk of damaging his lungs permanently was too scary for him to even consider, and that if it were his son, he wouldn’t let him do it. He then gave me the number of a pulmonary specialist to call for a second opinion.

I called, and the nurse I talked to said that doctor strongly recommends against SCUBA for any asthma patient.

That clinched it. No way will I knowingly subject my son to something harmful. That would be like saying, “I don’t know if there are nuts in this cookie, but it might be safe, so go ahead and eat it.” If there’s a chance something can go very wrong, we skip it. Life is full enough of dangers and accidents you can’t see coming. Why invite one in?

I know many people with asthma, and probably worse asthma than my son’s, participate successfully in SCUBA. But our family decided it just wasn’t worth pushing our luck. He’s too precious to us.

So my son was disappointed, but he understood. And I felt terrible for building up his hopes and then dashing them. But we're still looking forward to doing a lot of snorkeling together the next time we go on vacation somewhere wet and salty.

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