Getting winded during an intense workout means you are pushing hard, but wheezing after you finish indicates problems you should address. Swimming builds your cardiorespiratory fitness along with overall muscle strength, and it is a good calorie burner too. You only swim as well as you can breathe, though, so determine the cause of your wheezing to help avoid worsening problems in the future.
Pulmonary Function Basics
Your lungs transfer oxygen to the bloodstream, and take away carbon dioxide from it. When you swim or engage in any intense form of aerobic exercise, your heart beats faster in response to your muscles' demand for more oxygen and nutrition. Your lungs also increase their function during swimming workouts. Breathing deeper, you take in more oxygen and along with it, potential irritants. Pollution, pollen and other triggers cause changes in your respiratory system, causing distress and wheezing.
Sensitivity to certain allergens causes asthma in certain individuals. Asthma results in narrowing of your airways due to muscle constriction, inflammation and increased production of mucus. Your chest feels constricted during an asthma attack and you feel short of breath. Wheezing after exertion or exposure to triggers often occurs during moderate asthmatic attacks. Upper respiratory illnesses can start out as viral infections, but develop into bronchitis, an inflammation of the lungs. Wheezing and coughing typically accompany bronchitis, and swimming or exertion exacerbates symptoms. Heavy smokers can develop chronic bronchitis and wheeze during or after swimming or other activity.
Even if you do not have allergic asthma, you might still get asthmatic symptoms after swimming. Exercise and exposure to cold, dry air increases your risk for an asthmatic attack leading to exercise-induced asthma. Even though swimming typically is a low-risk sport for asthmatic attacks, indoor swimming, or poorly maintained pools can cause problems for sensitive swimmers. Byproducts created from the disinfection process can overwhelm available chlorine when contaminant load peaks or when the delicate chemical balance in pool waters fails.
Preventing asthmatic attacks requires medical treatment, either with short-term or long-acting medicines. Beta agonists taken a few minutes before swimming help relax bronchial airways, and combination steroidal and long-acting bronchodilator inhalers also soothe the inflammation that leads to wheezing and shortness of breath. Your physician can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and discuss treatment options. If you can, swim outdoors or change indoor pools if you find the air quality at your facility poor. Take time off from the pool when you are ill with a cold or flu to avoid worsening your symptoms or potentially spreading the illness to others.