WHAT CAN DIVERS DO?
While the risk cannot be quantified, most medical professionals remain reluctant to declare recreational divers with undiagnosed seizures or the diagnoses of epilepsy fit to dive.
This is because of the possibility of a fatal outcome should the risk occur.
I believe that an individual with epilepsy should channel his or her adventurous energy into land-based activities that can offer just as much exhilaration and fulfilment as diving.
There may be exceptions, however. These are seizures that were caused by vagus stimulation (fainting due to a nerve outflow pathway), positional hypotension (low blood pressure), low blood sugar, recreational drugs and fever convulsions before the age of five (without any subsequent seizures).
The data available tells us that 30% of individuals suffering from epilepsy will have seizures or convulsions despite their medication.
It also tells us that about 50% of children suffering from juvenile epilepsy will have no recurrence in adulthood and no increased risk when compared to the general population (although some authorities maintain that there is an increased risk of less than 1%).
Statistically the chances of experiencing another seizure decrease exponentially with time and reach an almost-normal risk level after five years (which does not take the added stresses of diving into consideration).
We also know from the data available that 30% of children and 65% of adults will experience epileptic seizures or convulsions in the first two years after they discontinue their anti-epileptic medication.
Some diving authorities now allow individuals with epilepsy to dive after five years with no seizures after discontinuing their medication. Other medical professionals believe that two years without seizures after discontinuing medication may be an acceptable risk for these individuals, with the provisos of a depth restriction to 15m, clear warm water and no nitrox breathing mixtures.
Although the incidence of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is low (about 2.3 times higher than in the general population), most of these deaths are due to impaired consciousness.
Divers who have epilepsy should ultimately decide. Should they wish to continue diving after considering all the information provided, they should accept the increased risk, as should their dive-buddies.