Permanent lung damage can occur even in mild cases. Like other respiratory illnesses, COVID-19 can cause lasting lung damage," said Dr. Matias Nochetto, director of medical service at Divers Alert Network (DAN).
Lung cells are damaged by both the corona virus infection and the body's inflammatory reaction to it, reducing lung function and gas exchange capabilities. This is not good for anyone's lungs, let alone diving," the doctor added. "There is no proof that any lungs have fully recovered from COVID-19. Everyone that has had COVID so far, even if they had COVID in January, their lungs are likely still recovering, so it is too soon to say if they are or are not gonna be able to dive.
Dr. Frank Hartig treated six infected divers who only suffered mild symptoms, were not hospitalized and recovered at home. Although "clinically recovered," all six patients exhibited "irreversible" long-term lung damage which made a full recovery "unlikely," Hartig said. Two exhibited asthmatic-like, irritated lungs, two suffered low oxygen supplies, and four showed "significant changes" to lung structure.
The Undersea Hyperberic Medical Society emphasized, "At the present time, we simply do not have sufficient data to support or refute the definitive proclamations made by this case series." UHMS, the primary source of scientific information regarding diving, noted that more time and studies are needed to accurately access the potential impact of the disease on individuals' health and ability to dive.
UHMS also highlighted that COVID-19 shares many features with other serious viral pneumonia, including requiring a "weeks or months" period of convalescence before returning to full activities, including diving. DAN's doctors similarly did not set a specific timeline for a return to diving after infection, instead advocating for individual medical assessments and fitness tests by doctors trained in dive medicine to uncover potential residual issues. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Chimiak emphasized the need to evaluate any residual damage to lung structure and function due to coronavirus before considering diving again.
The society recommending that infected, symptomatic divers wait two to three months after recovery and undergo complete pulmonary function testing, CT lung scanning, cardiac evaluations and exercise tests before attempting to dive again.
"There's no one fully recovered. Stay tuned. It's a new disease. I think this story is not over.
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