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Common Illnesses You Can Get from Swimming

  • Category: LiveSmart
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  • Written By: Baldwin

Family swimming in a pool

Before you jump in a lake, pool or ocean this summer, protect yourself from these illnesses.

As you dive into the pool or jump waves at the beach this summer, it's a good idea to take some precautions so you don't get sick. Water safety is vital, but protecting yourself from illness is equally important if you want to enjoy your summer free of illness.

How do you get water-related illnesses?

All bodies of water, from pools, hot tubs and splash pads to lakes, rivers and oceans, are contaminated with germs. Most of the time, we can swim and frolic in the water without those germs doing us any harm. But if you swallow water or those germs get in your eyes, ears or a cut on your skin, it can leave you feeling miserable. Some people also get sick from chemicals in water, like chlorine.

What are some illnesses you can get from swimming?

  • Diarrhea and gastrointestinal illnesses – This is the most common water-related illness and typically comes from pools. If someone who is already sick is in the pool, the tiny amount of poop that's on their body (we all usually have tiny amounts of poop on us) can wind up in the water. If you then swallow water containing the germs that made the other person sick, it can make you sick, too.
  • Respiratory illnesses – Just as germs that can give you diarrhea spread in the water, so too can germs from respiratory viruses. These germs may be lingering in the water or may be airborne, released from another swimmer nearby. Some people find that even if they don't wind up with a respiratory illness, they experience a sore throat or runny nose after being in the water for a long time. This most commonly occurs when swimming in pools treated with chemicals.
  • Ear infections and swimmer's ear – It's not uncommon for water to get in your ears when you're swimming and sometimes that water gets trapped. This can lead to discomfort or can even cause infection. If you're prone to getting water in your ear when swimming, tip your head to one side (some people find that shaking their head or hopping up and down helps). There are also over-the-counter drops you can put in your ear to dry out water that gets stuck.
  • Eye infections – Another type of infection some people get after swimming is an eye infection. Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is the most common. When this occurs, the eye becomes reddish and fluid is discharged. Eyes may also become irritated due to chemicals, salt or debris in the water. If your eyes are sensitive and often bother you when swimming, wear a pair of properly fitting goggles whenever you're in the water.
  • Skin irritations, rashes and infections – Germs, organisms and chemicals in water can cause your skin to become irritated, itchy or inflamed. If you already have an open cut or wound, germs can lead to infection. Some people's skin is more sensitive than others or you may react more to certain things. If your skin gets irritated after swimming, shower as soon as possible once you get out of the water.

If you experience irritation, itchiness, redness or other types of discomfort after swimming, your symptoms will usually go away on their own. If you develop an infection of some kind, whether gastrointestinal, respiratory or affecting your ears, eyes or skin, see a doctor. If the infection is caused by bacteria instead of a virus, antibiotics may be needed to treat it.

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Date Last Reviewed: May 14, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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