Swimming and Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion following swimming is not uncommon. If you are swimming in a pool and experience nasal congestion, you may be sensitive to the chemicals added to keep the water clean. If you experience problems following lake or ocean swimming, water may have entered your nose and nasal passages, which can result in inflammation or infection.

Man swimming in pool (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Breathing

Proper breathing during swimming is essential to help reduce nasal congestion and discomfort. If you get water in your nose while swimming, try to continually exhale slowly through your nose. When you raise your head to breathe, do it quickly between strokes. This may feel odd in the beginning, but with practice you will become accustomed to this type of breathing. The pressure of the air that you exhale prevents water from entering your nose.

Allergies

Both chlorine and bromine are gases in the halogen family of chemicals. Both chemicals are used to sanitize water. Chlorine is less expensive and is often used in public pools. Unlike bromine, chlorine can tolerate sunlight and is most often used in outdoor facilities. Bromine is used for hot tubs and spas because it is easily destroyed by sunlight. Bromine does not have the chemical smell of chlorine, which acts as irritant that can result in nasal congestion. Both chemicals can cause respiratory and skin reactions. They are absorbed through your skin, so showering off as soon as you can after leaving the pool is important.

Infections

Inhaled water that lodges in your sinus cavities can cause irritation and infection. This condition is known as sinusitis and nasal congestion is one of the first symptoms. You are more likely to get an infection from ocean or lake water because it is not sanitized and is filled with living organisms. If your nasal congestion is accompanied by headache, body aches and fever, see your health care provider for proper treatment.

Tips

Proper swimming hygiene is essential. Pre- and post-swim showers with soap and water should be mandatory at the facility where you swim. If you swim at an indoor pool, it should have good ventilation to help reduce the presence of chemical vapors from chlorine and other water sanitizers. A nose clip will effectively stop your from inhaling water if you often get water in your nose. The clip will also help protect your nasal mucosa from exposure to chemical irritants. Try saline, cromolyn sodium or steroid nasal spray to reduce symptoms of congestion. Also consider using oral decongestants or antihistamines if you are allergic to pool chemicals. Seek guidance from your health care provider to help determine what is best for you.

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