Will Swimming Make a Chest Congestion Worse?

Side profile of a young man swimming in a swimming pool
When you're sick, it's not a good idea to go swimming. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

When you're in the throes of a respiratory illness, swimming is probably the last thing you'll want to do, but as you begin to feel better, the congestion can move into your chest, and you may think about resuming your workouts. Swimming when you have chest congestion is unwise because doing so can spread the infection to others or make your illness worse. If your chest congestion is the result of something other than a cold or infection, however, you may still be able to swim.

Spreading Infection

Although swimming pools are usually filled with chlorinated water, they can still be a source of a wide variety of germs. If you swim when you're sick, you can spread your infection to other swimmers. You can even pick up a secondary infection that will make you sicker. When your immune system is fighting off one illness, you'll feel even worse if it has to manage a second one.

Water Chemicals and Congestion

Swimmers inhale small amounts of chlorine and similar chemicals as they breathe during a pool workout. Although the amounts of these chemicals in pools are generally safe for healthy people, they can irritate your nasal passages and bronchial tubes, worsening your chest congestion. If you have allergies to pool chemicals, the symptoms may be even more pronounced.

Making Illness Worse

When you swim or engage in any type of cardiovascular exercise, your heart and breathing rates increase. These changes can leave you gasping for air if you're already congested. Furthermore, any extra energy you expend working out is energy your body could use to fight infection. Consequently, in addition to potentially irritating your sinuses and chest, you're also taking valuable energy away from your immune system if you swim when you're congested.

Allergies and Other Exceptions

If you regularly experience chest congestion due to allergies, asthma or another medical condition, talk to your doctor about the right exercise routine. Low-intensity swimming may be fine, and you might even be able to rev up your exercise regimen with your doctor's permission. You may have more trouble breathing during exercise compared with someone who does not have your condition, but working out regularly can help improve your breathing and endurance.

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