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Exercise-Induced Asthma and Swimming

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Exercise-Induced Asthma and Swimming
Exercise-induced asthma leaves you short of breath. Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Although healthcare practitioners list swimming as a good exercise for people who suffer from asthma, certain circumstances poolside may exacerbate asthma problems or bring on asthma in previously symptom-free swimmers. Exercise-induced asthma can make breathing difficult and leave you wheezing or coughing after a workout. With careful supervision and control, however, swimmers can control their symptoms without giving up exercising in the pool.


Exercise-induced asthma is a condition that constricts your airways and makes you wheeze and cough upon exertion. You may have difficulty taking a deep breath and exhaling fully. Asthma can occur when your lungs and air passageways react to irritants such as cold dry air by producing mucus and constricting airways.The warm humid air of an indoor pool is beneficial for asthma sufferers, but pool chemicals can cause lung irritation in some people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exercise accentuates asthmatic symptoms because you breathe deeper and inhale a greater volume of air and potential irritants when you work out.

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Swimming Pool Chemicals

Chemicals in the pool may cause exercise-induced asthma in sensitive swimmers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlorine is the chemical most often used in pool sanitation. It is a highly reactive element in the halogen family that binds with inorganic and organic contaminants in the water. When pool maintenance and ventilation is adequate, the byproducts from the disinfection process either disappear in the atmosphere or degrade further. When contaminants overwhelm available chlorine, byproducts such as trihalomethanes or chloroform linger, often just above the surface of the water. The chemicals can cause lung irritation and trigger asthmatic symptoms in swimmers.

Prevention and Solutions

Physicians prescribe medicines to prevent and treat exercise-induced asthma. Beta adregenic-type inhalers, such as Albuterol, relax and widen your airways. Also called bronchodilators, they work to open airways within one or two minutes. Under the guidance of your doctor, you can take one or two puffs of the inhaler before you swim to prevent symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. Fast-acting bronchodilators can relieve asthma symptoms that occur after you exercise. More persistent asthma symptoms require additional medication, such as combination inhalers, which contain both a long-lasting bronchodilator and a medicine such as steroids to reduce and prevent inflammation, according to the Merck Manual. Because long-term steroid use causes side effects, use the lowest dose of medications necessary to control your symptoms. Do not increase or stop your medication without consulting with your doctor.


Although you should not give up the health benefits of swimming just because you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, changing pools might be a good idea. A better-ventilated or better-maintained indoor pool could solve your problem. Swimming outdoors whenever possible results in breathing in fewer chemical irritants. Always check with your doctor if your symptoms get worse, or if your medications stop working adequately.

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author image Barrett Barlowe
Barrett Barlowe is an award-winning writer and artist specializing in fitness, health, real estate, fine arts, and home and gardening. She is a former professional cook as well as a digital and traditional artist with many major film credits. Barlowe holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and French and a Master of Fine Arts in film animation.
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