This is a serious athletic training issue that affects me and certain of my athletes: some swimmers are prone to ENT and respiratory infections such as in the ear, sinuses, throat and lungs. Last year I only had 7 weeks to train before a 4.4mi open water swim because of pneumonia. Given that even treated pool water can be a vector for bacteria, what can a swimmer do to help prevent infections?

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    Thanks Peter. I will now be grossed out any time I step into a pool ~ever again~.
    – corsiKa
    Feb 8 '12 at 23:03
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    I'm not discussing fitness swimming, but a training concern for the sport of swimming. According to the faq, this is for 'participants in team and individual sport activities.' Feb 9 '12 at 1:49
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    this is a medical question and should be taken up with your doctor.
    – wax eagle
    Feb 9 '12 at 3:40
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    @PeterDeWeese sorry, misread the question. Still a medical question. You might look into the type of filtration your local pool uses. Some filters are better at dealing with bacteria than others (DE filters are better than sand or cartridge filters)...Doesn't help with open water, but its something
    – wax eagle
    Feb 9 '12 at 13:21
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    @PeterDeWeese no, but if you are having constant infection issues then you might be able to affect change at your facility by making a complaint, or switching facilities (you likely aren't the only ones).
    – wax eagle
    Feb 9 '12 at 14:57

Since crickets were chirping in here I did a little more research, and found that chlorine itself will cause irritation and irritated sinuses are more likely to become infected. This seems true to me, because I don't often hear of athletes getting infections from long open water swims in rather dirty water. Ear and nose plugs are not very useful while swimming because they prevent pressure equalization, but one can breathe out of their nose while diving and turning to prevent chlorinated water from entering the sinuses.

The comment on the question by wax eagle regarding proper facilities is correct but swim teams typically have little control over their facility and there is competition to contract lane-space in the first place. Its at a premium. The best facility in my area has great circulation, is 8 feet deep at its shallowest (large volume of water compared to number of swimmers) has UV, ozone, and bromine treatment, and is much less irritating to the sinuses and lungs. If only my team trained there.

A couple things for the training bag:

  • Auro Dri is an alcohol/glycerin ear drop that will disinfect and dry the ear canal.
  • Simply saline is a sterile saline solution that can be used to irrigate and wash the sinuses. It should be used sparingly as it can also strip away the protective mucous lining.
  • Shower with hot water, and inhale the steam to help clean your sinuses.

More tips are appreciated.

  • Would you mind linking to the chlorine information you found? It's not directly related to the answer but it sounds like it might be worth reading into for people having the same problem.
    – Dynamo
    Feb 9 '12 at 19:49
  • Edited. I've seen more authoritative sources from athletic journals but can't find them right now. Feb 10 '12 at 0:57
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    I've heard saltwater pools are effective alternatives to chlorinated pools inland, though of course the added buoyancy may be an issue. Feb 21 '12 at 22:43

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