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Asthma and swimming

Did you know swimming is recommended for people with asthma?

Or that some of our most successful Olympic swimmers – including four-time Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington – were asthmatics?

Read on for more information about asthma and swimming, including facts and myths, and tips for your next trip to the pool.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common, chronic inflammatory condition affecting the lungs and airways. Approximately eight million people in the UK have asthma.

When exposed to a range of stimuli (including fumes, exercise, cold air, pollen) individuals with asthma may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath. Severe attacks of asthma are rare but can be life-threatening.

What you need to know about asthma and swimming

  • Swimming is a preferred activity for many children and adults with asthma and is associated with a range of health benefits including improved physical fitness and mental well-being.
  • Traditionally swimming has been recommended for people with asthma, as the warm and humid environment is less provocative.
  • Some studies have suggested a possible link between asthma symptoms and the use of chlorinated pools. The underlying thinking is that pool chlorine, and its by-products, may act as an airway irritant.
  • Based on the current research, there is no strong evidence to suggest that recreational swimming can make well-controlled asthma worse. Indeed small studies suggest that swimming may have a beneficial effect on lung function, general fitness and asthma symptoms.

Tips for swimming with asthma

Do:

  1. Use the ‘nose’ test. If you notice a strong chemical smell after being in the pool environment for more than three minutes, then it may suggest an imbalance in the pool chemicals or problems with pool ventilation. You should not spend long in the water and inform the pool management.
  2. Always shower prior to entering the water to help maintain good water conditions
  3. Always keep your ‘reliever’ inhaler poolside
  4. Consider using your ‘reliever’ inhaler (as prescribed) 10 minutes before starting your swim
  5. Warm up and cool down appropriately to reduce the risk of exercise induced asthma
  6. Consult your GP if swimming seems to make your asthma worse, it may be a sign that your current treatment is not optimal.

Don’t:

  1. Swim on days where your asthma symptoms are troubling, or if you have a bad cold.

Participating in other aquatic disciplines with asthma

Open Water Swimming

  • Remember that the water temperature is likely to be colder, which may affect your asthma. Wearing a well-fitted wetsuit may help.
  • Carry your inhales with you if you’re swimming far from the shore. A waterproof wallet or waist bag can be helpful.

Swimming Abroad

  • Remember that different climates may affect your usual asthma control; especially changes in humidity, pollen count or air quality. You may need to modify your inhales use. Discuss this with your GP or asthma nurse before you travel.
  • Consider local pool hygiene standards as these may be variable.

Health Fact Sheets

Swim England’s Health Commission group have developed a range of fact sheets on swimming with particular health conditions, written for competitive swimmers, the general public and to also assist those who support or advise swimmers.

Listed below is the current fact sheet library for people with health conditions.

To view and download fact sheets written specifically for people who support or advise swimmers, head to our Health and Wellbeing pages.

Health Fact Sheets

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