Q: Our vacation plans include scuba diving. Is this activity safe for kids with diabetes?
A: Despite scuba diving restrictions in the past for people with diabetes, we know today that scuba diving is a safe activity for most adults and children with type 1. To find out if diving is a good choice for your child, talk to your pediatric endocrinologist. To give the green light, we generally look for three requirements: diabetes that is under control, no diabetes-related complications, and no episodes of severe hypoglycemia for at least one year.
If your child meets these guidelines, the next step is to contact your local dive shop or community pool to attend training classes for scuba certification before your vacation. (You will be given health forms which your diabetes care team can help you fill out.) In addition to learning the basics of how to scuba dive, there are also a few extra diabetes-related safety steps that should be incorporated into your child’s dive instruction. Some of these steps include:
- Practicing a special hand signal to be used in case the child starts to feel a low blood sugar while underwater
- Eating a snack before diving
- Checking blood sugars 60 minutes before, 30 minutes before, and then immediately before diving
- Understanding the ideal blood sugar range for your child to be in before diving
- Making sure low blood sugar supplies (including treatment for severe low blood sugar) will be easily available on deck or, when out on an actual dive, on the boat
- Checking for any unforeseen complications before diving
What about just signing up for one of those “crash course” types of scuba classes offered at many vacation resorts? Because instruction tends to be rushed and/or inadequate, this type of scuba training may be a bad idea not only for children with diabetes, but for all children. Scuba diving is a fun, exciting and rewarding family activity—and it’s also an activity that takes preparation and education. Take time to speak with your pediatric endocrinologist and attend dive training. Then get ready for the vacation of a lifetime!
—Aristides K. Maniatis, M.D., F.A.A.P., double-board certified in both pediatrics and pediatric endocrinology, is a pediatric endocrinologist with Rocky Mountain Pediatric Endocrinology in Centennial, Colo., and a scuba-certified diver.
How Other Parents Deal
“We went scuba diving as a family a few years ago. The signal my son was taught to give if he felt low was holding up his thumb and index finger in the shape of the letter ‘L.’ I freely admit that I basically spent the entire time we were underwater staring at my son, because I was so worried that he would give me the ‘L’ sign and I wouldn’t see it. Such is life as a mother!”
—Lydia M., Cranberry, N.J., mom of 18-year-old Andrew
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.