Newcomers to the wet world of swimming often become confused when they suddenly find themselves stricken with a runny nose after spending some time in the pool or pond. Nasal discharge is a fairly common side effect of swimming that you’ll need to manage properly to prevent more serious nasal issues such as sinus problems.
Proper swimming technique involves inhaling when your mouth and nose are above the level of the water and exhaling when your mouth and nose are in the water. At some point during swimming, many swimmers, especially those who spend a lot of time in pools and those who haven’t perfected their technique, allow water to enter their nasal passages. Your nose is lined with a mucous membrane that is highly sensitive to infections and inflammation from bacteria, viruses and environmental irritants. Frequently, when water enters your nasal passages repeatedly during swimming, the nasal tissue becomes inflamed and produces excessive amounts of nasal discharge, or a runny nose.
Although the exact cause of excessive nasal discharge after swimming varies by person, this condition seems to arise most frequently from environmental irritants, such as pool chemicals and dirty water. These irritants come in contact with your mucous membranes and cause swelling or inflammation, often because of an allergy or sensitivity to chlorine. In many cases, the swelling prevents your sinuses from draining, which may lead to additional problems, including bacteria growth and a potentially painful sinus infection.
A runny nose and other related symptoms generally arise within a few hours of swimming and may continue for 12 to 24 hours. Other symptoms you may experience include nasal congestion and sneezing. A headache, sinus pressure and nighttime cough may also occur if you develop a sinus infection, or sinusitis, which may last as long as seven to 10 days and generally is characterized by cloudy yellow or green mucus discharge.
Talk to your primary care doctor or an otolaryngologist for suggested home remedies and treatment options geared toward your specific health situation, especially if you have a history of allergies, asthma or nasal abnormalities, such as polyps or a deviated septum. In some cases, using a saline nasal spray after swimming may help clean out your nasal passages and reduce associated nasal discharge. You can also try using a nose clip, which prevents water from entering your nose while you swim. If you find a nose clip uncomfortable, aim to perfect your swimming technique, paying particular attention to exhaling through your nose -- instead of your mouth -- while swimming, which will help minimize the accumulation of water in your nose.
- “Swimming”; Joel McCormick Stager, et al.; 2005
- “Pediatric Otolaryngology”; Dr. Ralph Wetmore, et al.; 2000
- “Mastering Swimming”; Jim Montgomery, et al; 2009