Swimming is considered to be a kind of sports with a low risk of injury. Nonetheless there are some common health risks with swimming. Most lethal risks in swimming are due to the inability to swim, which can be a result of exhaustion due to long swims or bad physical shape and which causes drowing.
According to the "American Journal of Public Health", Vol. 75, Issue 9 1068-1070, swimmers suffer from illness approximately twice more often than non-swimmers, which is mostly due to respiratory, gastrointestinal ailments, allergy, irritation of the eyes and skin, water-related problems of the ears.
Common health risks can be divided into two basic groups: drowning and risks due to the effect of the specific properties of water on the human body like chemicals, germs, fungi, dangerous marine life or other objects in the water or water temperature as well as weather conditions.
The possible causes of drowning include: outside influence, for example being pushed under water by another person accidentally or intentionally, inability to swim as a result of unconsciousness or exhaustion, heart attacks caused by thermal shock after jumping into cold water, secondary drowning caused by inhaled salt water foaming in the lungs after a near drowning.
Common health risks associated with specific properties of water in most cases are not lethal and can only cause minor temporary inconveniences which are listed below:
- Skin problems like wrinkled skin on the palms of the hands, fingers, and the soles of the feet caused by spending long time in the water. This disappears quickly without any negative effect.
- Swimming can cause athlete's foot (boat bug), which can be prevented by drying the space between the toes after swimming.
- Injuries heal slower in the water.
In swimming pools the chlorine may affect lungs, slightly burn eyes or have a negative effect on hair. This stops shortly after leaving the water. Different disinfection techniques like using ozone can prevent this effect. There are not known cases of transmission of AIDS or pregnancy through the water yet. Common health risks related to infections include:
- Water in the ear canal can cause an infectious disease (Otitis externa).
- Long term swimming may occasionally result in some abnormal growth inside the ear canal due to the frequent water splashing.
- Some not so common diseases like Legionnaires' disease or mononucleosis (an infectious illness caused by the Epstein - Barr virus which usually affects swimmers during periods of peak training) are transmitted by improper sterilization of water.
Competitive swimmers may have specific problems due to overtraining, for example butterfly swimmers after long years of training may develop shoulder pain and back pain, breaststroke swimmers - knee pain, and backstroke and front crawl swimmers sometimes suffer from shoulder pain.
Shallow water blackout is a condition caused by holding the breath and results in unconsciousness because of oxygen starvation.
The least common health risks include: collisions with other swimmers or objects, especially while diving into the water or stepping on sharp objects, dangerous marine life attacks swimmers in certain areas of the ocean like some jellyfishes, corals, sea urchins, sharks and other fishes, snakes, lobster and crabs for example.
Remember, it's recommended to swim only in areas watched by lifeguards and to take into account water conditions.