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Common Motion Sickness Drug Could Impair Divers' Judgment


Dimenhydrinate, on the other hand, was associated with much lower scores on a test that required the subjects to switch rapidly between two tasks and is a measure of mental flexibility. "We showed a definite impairment [from dimenhydrinate], especially in combination with narcosis, and the deeper you go, the greater your decline," says O'Toole, an experienced diver who directs the hyperbaric medicine program at the University of Pittsburgh. "I would not recommend that someone take this drug and dive."

Add dimenhydrinate to the effects of narcosis "and you're really zonked," says Murray Grossan, MD, a Los Angeles-based otolaryngologist and a scuba diver since 1970. He tells WebMD that many fatal diving accidents occur because divers ignore or forget to watch the monitors that tell them they're low on air, which could be the result of impaired judgment produced by narcosis. Grossan was not involved in the study.

However, the potential effects of pseudoephedrine on heart function should not be dismissed, warns Claes Lundgren, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Research and Education in Special Environments at the State University of New York in Buffalo. People diving at great depths may experience an immersion effect, in which blood travels away from the limbs and into the chest, where it may distend the heart and render it more vulnerable to the effects of drugs that affect heart rhythm. "This could be responsible for a number of scuba deaths that remained unexplained," he tells WebMD.

Grossan says that his patients have found the scopolamine patch to be a good antidote to seasickness. They can remove it just before diving or wear it in the water if they dive with a hood. Some people also have had good luck with wristbands that compress certain pressure points and are reported to relieve nausea.

"It's worth noting that neither of these drugs is permitted for commercial pilots," says Lundgren. "Risk is a relative concept. [When it comes to diving after taking one of these drugs], it's really for the individual to define for him- or herself what is acceptable."


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