View Full Version : Swimming-induced congestion

July 16th, 2002, 03:03 PM
I've started swimming recently. I swim 3-4 days a week, and I'm enjoying it very much. I am experiencing one problem, however, that I would like to overcome if possible. Typically after swimming, my nose gets very stuffy, and this can last for as long as a day or two. It can be pretty uncomfortable, and others notice it when I speak. It's especially bad if I do a lot of backstroke or otherwise get a few good splashes up my nose.

Any suggestions will be appreciated, especially from fellow sufferers.

July 16th, 2002, 03:35 PM

Your experience is normal for many swimmers. If I take a break for a few days (or longer) from swimming, the first few times back I have the same type of congestion. I usually hear the next couple days everyone asking "do you have a cold?". For me it clears once I'm in a regular swimming routine again. I do have pollen/ragweed allergies for which I take Allegra. I do believe I've heard several comments in this forum that some people do have allergic reactions to pool water (I guess chlorine). Not sure I've helped you unless it clears after a few days like it usually does for me. I do remember someone commenting in this forum who uses the inhaler allergy stuff before swimming as a cure to being cleared for a swim.

Welcome to swimming!


Philip Arcuni
July 16th, 2002, 03:43 PM
This is pretty common, and as you suspect is caused by pool water in your sinuses. There are several solutions, only one or two of which (I think) really works.

The best is to swim in another pool. An outdoor pool is usually better, but a well-maintained pool with good chemistry (and perhaps not too much use) is what you should be looking for.

The next best is to get some nose clips. You can get these at a store that has a fairly good collection of stuff for competitive swimmers. I believe there are two types, one with an elastic rubber band that goes around your neck, another that sits on your nose all by itself, and is often used by synchronized swimmers. From previous postings I gather most swimmers prefer the latter. For some reason (I can't imagine why) these do not stay on my own particular nose very well, while the one with the strap does (or at least I don't worry about losing it.)

You will get used to nose clips pretty quick, especially if you are really suffering the rest of the day. I remember when I was a lot worse than "very stuffy." I will spare you the gross details.

Another recommended solution is a sinus wash with a saline solution. I haven't worked up the nerve or the organization for this, especially since the clips work pretty well.

Other people like various drugs, such as anti-histamines (sp?) while others say that it is not an allergy, but instead an irritation of the nasal passages, so these drugs are ineffective. I'm agnostic about whether or not it is an allergy - it feels and acts like one - but what do I know? Anyway, this seems like an expensive solution, and violates my own principle of drugs as a last resort.

A couple of other regular posters have had lots of experience with this problem. I hope my notes help, and good luck.

July 16th, 2002, 06:33 PM
I sometimes experience this problem. My guess is that it's because of irritation from chlorine. What usually works for me is a simple unmedicated saline spray right after swimming. (Since it's unmedicated you can use it as often as need to, without concern over the rebound effects from medicated sprays.)

July 16th, 2002, 07:07 PM
If I breathe out a lot through my nose, this occurs (more frequently than normal). When you do this, you irritate your membranes in the nose, and this can easily cause sinus congestion. Don't do the Vicks Sinex thing though. It works WONDERS to clear up the problem, but it is highly addictive. Hence... I'm ready for another trip to the doctor to get rid of the problem caused by what I treated the original problem with. :)

July 17th, 2002, 03:05 PM
Thanks to the repliers.

It looks like I'll have to try the nose clips, and get over the self-consciousness. I've tried the saline, and it didn't work. I also tried a spray decongestant once, and it didn't seem to help anway, never mind the problem of over-using it. Worst case, I walk around breathing through my mouth and sounding like I have a cold. I'm enjoying swimming enough to put up with that if I have to.


July 18th, 2002, 05:55 PM
Jim - Do you have any allergies? I get stuffy and sneezy occassionally while swimming. I've noticed that my symptoms occur when certain people fail to rinse off their aftershave and perfume. The oil based perfumes cause a slick on the surface which plays havoc with my allergies. Unfortunately, many "non-swimmers" don't realize that perfumes, hairsprays and the like will float on the pool surface. Talk to your pool manager and ask them to enforce the shower policy. It may help.


July 18th, 2002, 08:11 PM
I have sinus prblems all the time whether I swim or not. I take the over the counter stuff like bendrayl(misspelling again) and use ear medicine all the time.

July 19th, 2002, 09:35 AM
I too have bad allergies (actually took shots for them for about 10 years), and it got so bad a year or so ago that I was coming home from the really long practice on Sundays and sneezing to the point that my nose was sore. I would take a couple of a Benadryl (you were close on the spelling, Cynthia!), which of course would render me unconscious the rest of the afternoon (but at least I wasn't sneezing). This only happened on Sundays, when the workouts are about an hour and a half long; during the week, I only get to swim about 45 minutes. I'm sure part of the problem was the chlorine drying out my sinuses, but I think part of it was also the mold in the facility. I don't mean to say that my pool is a moldy old pool. It's actually a nice, new facility. But in the South it's pretty hard to get away from mold. Even if you can't see it or smell it, it's there. And I know from allergy testing that I'm more allergic to it than just about anything else.

All of this is to say that if your problem is mold, about your only choices are avoidance (i.e., find another pool) or antihistamines. Or I guess you could talk to the pool management and find out if there's anything they can do to control the mold growth. UK (where I swim) must have done something since last summer, because it's not happening to me anymore.

Maybe a trip to an allergist would be helpful.

July 19th, 2002, 04:09 PM
The allergy angle could be applicable - I do have some sensitivies, including seasonal hay fever. Perhaps a trip to an allergist would be helpful - I've never been to one.


July 20th, 2002, 02:13 PM
HI there, it took me a long time to figure out what was going on with me... so I sympathize with your experience! I swam in college for hours every day, and eventually developed a chlorine allergy. It got worse and worse and I continued swimming - thinking I just had a cold. But the cold turned into constant coughing and sinus congestion. I started going to the student health facility, and was there literally every week trying to figure out what was going on. I was diagnosed with bronchitis, pneumonia, exercise-induced asthma, you name it. I was prescribed everything under the sun. The only thing that got me through the night without coughing was codeine! It got so bad that I remember skipping an organic chem test because I couldn't get out of bed! This went on for about a year. I remember my mother suggesting that maybe I was allergic to chlorine. I laughed that off. That summer, I lifeguarded at small, outdoor hotel pools where I couldn't lap swim. So I wasn't submerged every day and my symptoms cleared up. That's when I noticed the difference. I had to stop swimming every day in order to be able to figure out the association - that when I *swam* (compared to frolicking in water just to cool off), the symptoms returned for the next day or so. I finally realized that my mother had probably been right. I later talked about this problem to a college buddy of mine who used to be on the school swim team. He had stopped swimming, and I discovered that the reason was because the same thing had happened to him. Lost his athletic scholarship - so tragic.

Anyway - it's about 8 years later now. I stopped lap-swimming regularly and have always looked for other ways to work out. But I never liked anything else like swimming. So recently, I started up again. I find that if I don't overdo it - (too many days in a row), I can swim regularly. I swim Saturdays and Sundays and maybe once during the week, and the symptoms don't return.

Whenever your immune system is challenged by an environmental allergen over and over again, with increasing duration and frequency - your body may develop an allergy... it doesn't matter how weird or how benign the allergen may seem - even chlorine. Allergies don't have to last forever- they may just be a temporary attempt of your immune system to fend off a "threat" that's intense at the moment. Unlike antibody-related immune responses, your immune system doesn't program itself to always remember that allergen and freak out every time it encounters it again. That happens with certain viruses and bacteria, but not typically with environmental challenges like chlorine.

My recommendation is, sadly, to modify your schedule so as to swim less frequently, or fewer days in a row. So if you currently swim 3 days in a row - try going down to two days in a row, or skipping a day between each swim. You don't want it to get so bad that you have to stop swimming altogether. Good luck.

Phil Arcuni
July 21st, 2002, 02:25 PM
Nose clips really do work. Please consider them before you do anything drastic like curtailing swimming. The water goes into your nose and causes the problem. With clips, it doesn't.

(clips make underwater dolphin kick in backstroke easier also.)

August 6th, 2002, 10:08 AM
I started out using a saline spray; that helped the dryness but not the congestion. I then tried the over-the-counter sinus spray mentioned above. That did work great until I became addicted to it (had to use the spray or my nose would get congested, even if I did not swim). Then my doctor put me on Flonase, a prescription spray for allergies and inflammed membranes. It works great and is not addictive (if I don't swim for a few days and stop using the spray, I don't get congested again). One spray in each nostril every day and I haven't had any problems.

I hesitated to use nose clips because of my natural rhythm breathing in through my mouth and out through my nose.

I hope that helps.

August 16th, 2002, 05:48 PM
I too, started using flonase for allergies (I pretty much only use it during the spring and summer months when my allergens are abundant). It works very well and has prevented the occasional chlorine up the nose irritation as well. If you don't have other allergies, the nose clip is probably the best way to go.

August 28th, 2002, 08:55 PM
Badge of Honor. Just like red eyes and smelly skin and hair. Wear it proudly! :p

Seriously, I had the same problem when I used to swim at the University pool. I am at a different pool now and I no longer have that problem. I really think that it has to do with the type of chemicals that the pool jockey uses. This must be the case because I find that I no longer REEK of chlorine (just a little smelly)

Another theory that I have is that I actually have fried my sinuses out from excessive pool water exposure. If this is the case, just keep swimming and your symptoms will go away :D

Swim hard

August 28th, 2002, 09:06 PM
Hi Jim,

It was suggested to me a few years ago, to put a thin coating of vaseline around the inside of the nose before entering the pool. I did this and before long I did not have any further problems. The biggest problem I have, is to remember to do this prior to training. Good Luck.


April 27th, 2007, 03:57 PM
I too have suffered. I was a Masters Swimmer and a lifeguard when I started getting severe congestion on days when I swam. The wierd aspect of this was that the symptoms wouldn't start until 4 hours or more after I had swum. It would get progressively worse thru the day, and be cleared up the next morning.

I have to agree this is not an 'allergy' for two reasons. First, an allergy gets better when you leave the allergic area. If it were an allergy I should have had my worst symptoms just after I swam, not hours later. Second, for me antihystimines just didn't seem to work. I would take them before I swam, and they did not appear to ease any of the symptoms.

I gave up my job as a lifeguard, and finally went to an ENT for advice. Luckily he was also a Masters Swimmer so he know that abstinence was not a valid choice. He declared that it was not an allergy and not an irritation of some long lasting infection. He had no answer for why it would start hours after the immesion. He gave me a prescription for Flonase and I had to spray both nostrils twice a day every day. This seemed to work, but then the summer came and the symptoms went away and I stopped using it.

I am now swimming indoors again trying to get ready for a triathlon, and guess what is back. I am going to try the nose plugs. I really don't like having to take a prescription nose spray twice a day every day for the rest of my life.

Any news on how the nose plugs worked??

April 27th, 2007, 04:32 PM
I have the opposite problem. If I get water up my nose it burns behind my eyes. My nose would dry out so badly it would bleed. Saline spray really helped me!

April 27th, 2007, 10:38 PM
I was getting recurring sinus infections until I tried a nose clip. I used to breathe out thru my nose as well, and it took me all of two laps w/ the clip to learn not to do that. Swimming without the sinus problems is worth looking a little dorky.

April 28th, 2007, 08:35 AM
Breath rite nasal strips for the times after swimming(like at night when you are most likely to notice the nasal stuffiness)have worked well for me. Also greatly decreases snoring which has contributed greatly to my wife's improved dispostion.;) This product has no side effects, no downside other than the possible slight superficial skin redness when you first remove it in the morning. I personally highly recommend this very simple and very effective product. I don't have any congestion problems while swimming or I would probably wear one in the pool also. IMHO. Am also a believer in using nose plugs and I don't care what I look like as long as I can swim regularly.Good luck.

April 28th, 2007, 10:23 AM
I was getting recurring sinus infections until I tried a nose clip. I used to breathe out thru my nose as well, and it took me all of two laps w/ the clip to learn not to do that. Swimming without the sinus problems is worth looking a little dorky.
I couldn't agree more!! I resisted the nose clip idea for similar reasons that many people might have -- I breathed through my nose, I might look dorky, the clip might be uncomfortable or fall off or.... any number of reasons. My nasal issues were not improving without nose clips so I gave them a try. I have never looked back:applaud: I had found my cure and do not need to put medidcated anything in or up my nostrils. The clip is VERY easy to get used to.

April 28th, 2007, 08:45 PM
I agree wholeheartedly w/Nancytris

May 4th, 2007, 09:24 PM
I had this problem when I started back doing laps. Here is what fixed this for me withOUT drowsiness

1. Flonase - comes in generic now.
2. Loratadine - That is generic for Claratin - over the counter

I have allergies that are irritated by the clorine.

Dave Altman
October 5th, 2008, 09:59 AM
I couldn't agree more!! I resisted the nose clip idea for similar reasons that many people might have -- I breathed through my nose, I might look dorky, the clip might be uncomfortable or fall off or.... any number of reasons. My nasal issues were not improving without nose clips so I gave them a try. I have never looked back:applaud: I had found my cure and do not need to put medidcated anything in or up my nostrils. The clip is VERY easy to get used to.This was exactly my thoughts, too, Nancy. Does anyone know how to select the right size? I'm about 6', with a "normal" size nose, so I'm guessing a large Speedo clip like the ones synchronized swimmers use? I saw those for about $4. I'm open to any other suggestions of brands, though.

To throw in my two cents on the cause, at least in my case, I believe it is a chemical irritation from excessive pool water exposure, not really an allergy. I swim 8 to 10 hours per week. If I do a short swim, I don't have any problem, but if I do my normal two hour swim, it bothers me until the next morning, sometimes longer.

October 5th, 2008, 11:05 AM
After trying several kinds, I found Laxto nose clips to work the best for me. These things do not fall off and seal your nose completely. They come in three sizes. I have and medium size pug nose and wear the average size). I think I wear them upside down, but it works for me.

Here's what they look like:


Lots of on-line stores carry them.

October 5th, 2008, 12:36 PM
Chlorine isn't an allergen because it has no protein. What is an allergen is the byproduct produced by urine and chlorine mixing. So the pool could possible have a water filtration system or a chlorination system that isn't working.

A very likely possibility is that you aren't doing your turn quickly enough. Many tend to believe this to be more the cause than a pool problem. i have this problem. A nose clip has solved it.

Dave Altman
October 5th, 2008, 01:22 PM
I don't want to get too off track with topic, discussing causes or other points, but...

Craig, I thought you could be allergic to anything, not just things with proteins. I suspect that it is more of a pH problem with the pool I swim in, rather than chlorine, anyway. The other day, my skin started itching, as well. I have very few options on where I swim. This is the closest indoor pool and it's 30 miles away!

I'm sold on the solution of a nose clip/plug, though. Thanks for you suggestion, ensignada. I saw those in my search, but I will double check them and get those or whichever one I can get the easiest.

November 17th, 2010, 07:24 PM
I began swimming a few months ago and I developed terrible sinus congestion that would last for days after swimming.

This week I finally got relief, as KeatherSwim suggested I eased up on how much and how hard I was exhaling through my nose and I started using a neti pot to flush my sinuses after I swim. These two changes made a HUGE difference for me. I went from miserable congestion 24/7 to clear sinuses over night. The neti pot was a little weird to use at first but it's really easy and is now my new best friend.