Post-Swim Breathing Discomfort: Why Does It Hurt to Breathe After Swimming

Marjan Sokolovski

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Hurt To Breathe After Swimming

For many, swimming is a refreshing and invigorating activity. However, the joy of a good swim can sometimes be dampened when you experience discomfort in your chest and a sensation of pain when you take deep breaths afterward. 

This is a common occurrence known as post-swim breathing discomfort, and why does it hurt to breathe after swimming? In this blog post, we delve into the various factors responsible for this phenomenon.

We’ll explore the reasons behind the pain in your chest, which might range from overexertion of respiratory muscles and exposure to pool chemicals to cold water’s impact on your airways. 

We’ll also provide valuable insights into how to prevent and alleviate this discomfort, making your post-swimming experience more enjoyable. 

The causes and remedies for post-swim breathing discomfort can help you swim more comfortably and take better care of your respiratory health. So, stay focused. 

Why Does It Hurt to Breathe After Swimming?

Painful breathing after swimming can be attributed to a condition commonly known as “swimmer’s chest” or “swimmer’s lung.” This discomfort arises due to a combination of factors. 

First, the physical exertion and breath control required while swimming can lead to overuse of respiratory muscles, resulting in soreness. 

Additionally, the inhalation of chlorine fumes or other pool chemicals may irritate the respiratory tract, causing a burning sensation or cough. 

Moreover, the body’s response to cold water can constrict airways, exacerbating the sensation of pain when inhaling. 

It’s crucial to warm up before swimming and practice controlled breathing techniques during exercise to reduce muscle strain. 

If the discomfort persists, it might indicate a more serious issue like water inhalation or an underlying respiratory problem, necessitating medical attention.

Causes Why It Hurts to Breathe Deep After Swimming

There are many causes why does it hurt to take a deep breath after swimming. 

It’s important to warm up properly before swimming, practice controlled breathing techniques, and ensure proper pool ventilation to minimize the discomfort associated with deep breathing after swimming.

Overexertion of Respiratory Muscles

Hurts to Breathe Deep After Swimming

Deep breathing during swimming, particularly in activities like competitive swimming or underwater breath-holding exercises, can strain the respiratory muscles. 

This overuse can lead to muscle soreness, making deep breaths painful after swimming.

Chlorine and Chemical Irritation

Many swimming pools use chlorine and other chemicals to maintain water quality. 

Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can irritate the respiratory tract, leading to a burning or stinging sensation when taking deep breaths after swimming. This is commonly referred to as “swimmer’s lung.”

Cold Water Constriction

Cold water can cause the airways to constrict. When you breathe deeply after swimming in cold water, the sudden influx of air can be uncomfortable and cause pain. 

This phenomenon is especially relevant in open-water swimming.

Water Inhalation

Accidentally inhaling water while swimming can lead to irritation and discomfort in the respiratory tract. 

The body’s natural response to foreign substances in the airways can cause coughing, wheezing, and a painful sensation when trying to take deep breaths.

Underlying Respiratory Conditions

Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis, may be more susceptible to post-swimming breathing discomfort. 

The physical exertion and exposure to irritants in the pool environment can exacerbate these conditions, making deep breathing painful.

Remedies of Breathing Difficulty After Swimming

Remedies of Breathing Difficulty After Swimming

By taking appropriate precautions and practicing good swimming habits, you can reduce the likelihood of experiencing breathing difficulties after swimming.

Proper Warm-up and Cool Down

To alleviate breathing difficulties after swimming, it’s essential to include a thorough warm-up and cool-down routine in your swimming session. 

Warm-up exercises help prepare your respiratory muscles and gradually increase your heart rate, reducing the risk of overexertion. 

After swimming, cooling down with gentle, slow-paced laps or stretches can help your body recover and reduce the risk of muscle soreness.

Breathing Techniques

Practicing controlled breathing techniques during swimming can improve your lung capacity and reduce the risk of post-swimming breathing difficulties. 

Focus on rhythmic, deep breaths and exhale fully to expel any trapped air or irritants from your respiratory tract.


Dehydration can exacerbate respiratory discomfort after swimming. Make sure you’re well-hydrated before and after your swim to keep your mucous membranes moist and prevent irritation. 

Drinking water helps thin mucus, making it easier to clear from your airways.

Pool Environment

Choose swimming pools with well-maintained water quality and proper ventilation. 

Avoid pools with excessive chlorine levels or poor air circulation, as these factors can contribute to respiratory irritation.

Seek Medical Evaluation

If breathing difficulties persist or worsen after swimming, consult a healthcare professional, especially if you have an underlying respiratory condition. 

They can assess your symptoms and provide guidance or treatment specific to your situation.

How to Avoid Trouble Breathing After Swimming?

How to Avoid Trouble Breathing After Swimming?

To avoid trouble breathing after swimming, consider implementing the following strategies:

Proper Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Begin your swimming session with a thorough warm-up, which includes light aerobic exercises and gentle stretches. 

A warm-up prepares your body for the demands of swimming, reduces the risk of muscle strain, and eases the respiratory transition. 

After swimming, engage in a cool-down routine to gradually decrease your heart rate and prevent abrupt changes in your breathing pattern.

Controlled Breathing Techniques

Develop good breathing habits while swimming. Focus on rhythmic, controlled inhalations and exhalations to optimize oxygen intake and minimize the strain on your respiratory muscles. 

Avoid breath-holding, as this can lead to overexertion.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can exacerbate breathing difficulties. Ensure you are well-hydrated before and after swimming to maintain moist mucous membranes in your respiratory tract. 

Adequate hydration also helps thin mucus, making it easier to clear irritants from your airways.

Choose the Right Pool

Select swimming pools with proper water quality maintenance and good ventilation systems. Excessive chlorine exposure and poor air circulation can irritate the respiratory tract. 

Swim in well-maintained pools with balanced chlorine levels and effective air quality control to reduce the risk of breathing problems.

Gradual Increase in Intensity

If you’re new to swimming or returning after a break, gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. 

Overexertion can strain your respiratory muscles, leading to discomfort. Build up your swimming stamina over time to reduce the risk of post-swimming breathing issues.

By incorporating these practices into your swimming routine, you can significantly decrease the likelihood of experiencing trouble breathing after swimming.

When to See A Doctor for Shortness of Breath After Swimming?

When to See A Doctor for Shortness of Breath After Swimming?

Shortness of breath after swimming is not uncommon, but there are situations where it’s important to consult a doctor for evaluation and guidance:

Persistent or Worsening Symptoms

If the shortness of breath or breathing difficulties persist, worsen, or do not improve within a reasonable timeframe after swimming, it’s a red flag. 

Shortness of breath that continues for hours or days after swimming could indicate an underlying issue that requires medical attention.

History of Respiratory Conditions 

Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should be particularly vigilant. 

If your symptoms are more severe or prolonged than usual, or if you experience any new or unusual symptoms, consult a healthcare professional. 

These conditions can be exacerbated by the physical exertion and chlorine exposure associated with swimming.

Coughing or Wheezing

If you develop a persistent cough or experience wheezing, it may indicate a more significant problem, such as water inhalation or chlorine-induced bronchospasm. 

These symptoms can be indicative of more serious respiratory issues and should not be ignored.

Chest Pain or Discomfort

If shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, discomfort, or pressure, it could be a sign of a more critical problem, such as a heart issue. 

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms, especially if they occur during or shortly after swimming.

Sudden Onset

If you experience a sudden, severe shortness of breath while swimming or immediately after, it could be an emergency situation. 

Seek immediate medical assistance, as it may indicate a life-threatening condition such as drowning or a heart-related problem.

In any of these scenarios, it is crucial to prioritize your health and well-being. If you are unsure whether your symptoms warrant a doctor’s visit, it’s better to err on the side of caution and seek medical advice.


Why is it hard to breathe after swimming?

After swimming, breathing difficulties may result from water exposure, cold air, or strenuous exercise in water. Water pressure can make it harder to expand the chest, causing temporary discomfort.

Is shortness of breath after swimming normal?

Mild shortness of breath after swimming can be normal, especially if you’re pushing your limits. However, severe or persistent breathlessness may indicate an issue and should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Why do my lungs hurt after swimming?

Lung discomfort post-swimming can stem from water entering the airways, which can irritate the lungs temporarily. Overexertion, chlorine exposure, or cold water may also contribute to this sensation.

Is it okay if it hurts to breathe after swimming?

Mild discomfort may be normal, but intense or prolonged pain while breathing should not be ignored. Seek medical advice if pain persists, as it could indicate an underlying issue.

How to treat difficulty breathing in chest-deep water?

If you experience breathing difficulty in chest-deep water, move to shallower water and rest. 

If the problem persists, seek medical attention. Ensure you have proper swimming skills, and be mindful of your surroundings to prevent potential dangers.

Wrapping Up

Post-swim breathing discomfort can be a temporary nuisance or, in some cases, a sign of underlying issues. 

As we’ve explored, various factors, including muscle strain, chlorine exposure, and cold water, can contribute to this discomfort. 

However, by adopting warm-up and cool-down routines, controlled breathing techniques, and choosing the right pool environment, you can reduce the risk of post-swim breathing issues. 

Additionally, it’s crucial to seek medical advice if you have persistent or severe symptoms, a history of respiratory conditions, or any alarming chest pain or coughing.

Understanding the reasons behind post-swim breathing discomfort and taking proactive measures can enhance your swimming experience. 

By prioritizing your respiratory health, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of this fantastic exercise without the unwanted pain and discomfort that sometimes accompanies it. Best wishes. 

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Marjan Sokolovski

I am a professional swimming coach who has been coaching for over 20 years. I have coached athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics, and I have also helped to train people across the world. I started my coaching career by teaching swimming lessons at a local pool. I was really passionate about teaching people how to swim, but I quickly realized that this wasn't enough for me. I wanted to make a difference in people's lives and help them achieve their goals. I started working with athletes in high school, college, and then professionally. The best part about coaching is that you get the opportunity to work with so many different types of people from all walks of life - it's just incredible! LinkedIn

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