Popular prescription medications for treating erectile dysfunction include Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. They work by increasing blood flow to certain areas of the penis, and like all meds have side effects. Most worrisome is a potentially dangerous decrease in blood pressure in those taking certain other drugs that also dilate blood vessels. Other possible side effects tend to be transient and mild in nature, but still can be problematic for the diver. Examples include headache, stomach upset, nasal congestion, and muscle aches.
Taking one of these medications in proximity to diving could impede equalization of the ears and sinuses, or result in heartburn, nausea, and burping, complaints that could be further exacerbated by the prone and sometimes head-down positions assumed while diving. The well-known “blue vision” that is a common side effect of Viagra generally is of little concern to recreational diver safety.
The diver taking one of these drugs will want to monitor for topside adverse reactions before diving. Among other advantages, this may prevent symptoms like headache and muscle ache from being confused with DCI or vice versa.
There is no reason to suspect that these medications increase the likelihood of DCI, and in fact, preliminary research with animals suggests such ED drugs could reduce the probability.
Finally, any limitations or risks to safe scuba imposed by the condition(s) causing the ED (e.g., diabetes, obesity, psychiatric disorder) also must be considered.
This is educational only and does not constitute or imply a doctor-patient relationship. It is not medical advice to you or any other individual and should not be construed as such. Consult with your physician before taking a drug and diving.
DocVikingo has been scuba certified for more than 35 years and has dived all over the world. He is a practising doctor in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area and has held faculty positions at several major hospitals, including Johns Hopkins. With an interest in diving medicine, he serves as administrator at Scuba Clinic Online.