University Of Pittsburgh researchers find some over-the- counter medicine may affect scuba divers' performance

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 30 -- Scuba divers should think twice about taking certain over- the-counter medications before diving, say emergency physicians at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who conducted studies on the effects of Dramamine® and Sudafed® on scuba divers' performance. The results of the studies, published in the September issue of Pharmacotherapy, are among the first to have been conducted in hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) chambers, where pressures experienced by divers at different depths can be simulated accurately.

While most divers know it is ill-advised to take any kind of medication before a dive, many will take Dramamine® to combat the effects of seasickness or take Sudafed® to ease pressure in the sinus and ears. But, the researchers wondered might divers be subjecting themselves to greater risks for decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis?

Nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness result from inhaling compressed air. Nitrogen narcosis is attributed to the depth of a dive and occurs when divers become disoriented and, in rare cases, become unconscious. It can be remedied by ascending back to the surface of the water. Decompression sickness is associated with the length of a dive and is caused when nitrogen bubbles arise in the blood, resulting in severe pain. Unlike nitrogen narcosis, decompression sickness can lead to permanent damage. Potential neurologic complications include stroke and paralysis.

According to the results of their studies, the researchers found Sudafed® to be relatively "safe," but determined that Dramamine® could have serious consequences on a diver's mental functioning and judgment. "Our findings indicate that Sudafed® is unlikely to cause problems for divers. But, Dramamine® should be avoided prior to diving because of its adverse affects on mental agility," says David McD Taylor, M.D., principal investigator of the study, who is now at the Royal Melbourne Hosp

Contact: Maureen McGaffin
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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