DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

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Eye Conditions That Will Keep You Out of the Water

What eye conditions would preclude someone from diving?

  • Gas in the eye (may be present after vitreoretinal surgery). Diving with gas in the eye may result in vision-threatening intraocular barotrauma due to the pressures of the surrounding water column.

  • Hollow orbital implants. The presence of a hollow orbital implant after an eye has been surgically removed because of injury or disease may preclude diving.

    The increased pressures encountered while diving may cause a hollow orbital implant to collapse, resulting in cosmetic problems and a need for further surgery to replace the damaged implant.

    Many ocular plastic surgeons are now using implants made of hydroxyapatite, a porous material which is not a contraindication for diving.

  • Acute eye disorders. Any acute eye disorder which produces significant pain, light sensitivity, double vision, or decreased vision is a contraindication to diving. These symptoms may be produced by a number of ocular infectious, traumatic, or inflammatory conditions.

    In general, it's best to wait until the underlying acute condition has resolved and there are no distracting or disabling ocular symptoms to contend with before returning to diving.

  • Recent eye surgery. After eye surgery, avoid diving prior to completion of the recommended convalescent period for your particular type of surgery.
  • Inadequate vision. There is a detailed discussion of visual acuity and diving in the article entitled "Diving and Hyperbaric Ophthalmology" mentioned in the introduction.

    Deciding on your own visual acuity is primarily a judgment call, with few relevant scientific studies available to help resolve the issue. The approach taken in the article was to use statutory visual standards established for another hazardous activity - driving a car, for example - whose visual requirements are more demanding than diving. The recommendation made was that if you see well enough to qualify for a driver's license and operate a motor vehicle safely, then you should be able to see well enough to dive safely.

    If a prospective diver has visual acuity which is poor enough to preclude him or her from being allowed to drive, then the fitness to dive decision needs to be individualized with the assistance of an eye physician and dive instructor.

  • Decreased vision. If your vision is impaired from previous episodes of decompression sickness or arterial gas embolism, don't risk further injury.

  • Some types of glaucoma surgery.

    For more information on vision issues, see the complete article by Frank K. Butler Jr., Captain, Medical Corps, United States Navy on High-Pressure Ophthalmology from Alert Diver.