Pneumonia is a long-lasting, often severe and occasionally fatal lower-respiratory illness. It can occur in one or both lungs and make it difficult for a person to go about daily life. For swimmers and other athletes who need to have their lungs and respiratory tracts fully functional to do their best at their sport, pneumonia can be incredibly disruptive.
Pneumonia is actually a fairly general term for a collection of symptoms. Several causes of pneumonia exist, from Legionellosis, the germ that causes Legionnaire's disease, to a cold that suddenly becomes much worse. In addition to the causes of pneumonia that nonswimmers have to deal with, swimmers have to watch out for blue-green algae blooms, also known as pond scum. The University of Miami says that there have been reports of swimmers developing pneumonia after coming into contact with the algae.
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Cedars-Sinai Medical Center notes that pneumonia itself isn't really something that's transmissible between people, although the cause can be, such as a virus. In addition to common-sense precautions like eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated and well rested, and staying away from people who are sick in general, check that the pool you swim in is in good condition. If it's at a gym or other organization, like a university pool, ask what the organization does to prevent algae and germs like Legionellosis.
Whether or not you can still swim depends on what your doctor says, as well as what caused the pneumonia and how severe it is. Olympic swimmers may have gone back in the pool while sick, but that does not mean you have to. This is a respiratory disorder that can take a long time to go away, especially if it's viral, and curtailing all activities, particularly those that form a major part of your life, can be distressing. However, you don't want to risk the condition recurring or becoming worse -- or passing it to someone else. Even if you are given the all clear to return to the pool, your fellow swimmers might not appreciate it. The doctor who has been monitoring you will have a better idea of how well you might be able to handle returning to swimming. KidsHealth notes that in general, though, rest is one of the main paths to recovery.
If you find out you've been exposed to a possible pneumonia trigger, have accidentally had something like food go down into your lungs or experience a worsening of a cold or flu that you've had for a few days, see a doctor immediately. If your temperature is running high, you keep coughing or you have chest pain, you need to find out the cause. The sooner pneumonia is caught, the better.
- Washington State Department of Health: Recreational Water Illnesses
- Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Pneumonia
- Sydney Morning Herald: Magnussen Has Medal on His Mind
- University of Miami: Frequently Asked Questions About Blue Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) and Their Toxins
- Michigan State University: Pests of Pools
- KidsHealth: Pneumonia
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.