Swimming & Sinus Infections

Updated July 19, 2017

If you are a swimmer, you may have noticed nasal blockage or pain in your sinus cavities after prolonged swimming. Often it goes away after a few days, but sometimes it becomes more of a problem, turning into a painful and irritating sinus infection.

What is a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection, or sinusitis as it is also called, is an inflammation of the sinuses and nasal passages. The sinuses are hollow, air-filled cavities in the skull that are connected to the nostrils and nasal passages. The sinuses contain defences against foreign viruses and bacteria, and if these defences become disrupted, they may allow bacteria from the nasal passages to enter the sinuses. Once the sinuses are infected with bacteria, they begin to overproduce mucus that will stagnate, resulting in pressure obstructing proper drainage and the free flow of air. Bacteria will multiply, causing very uncomfortable symptoms.


While sinus infections can be caused by a number of different factors, including colds, allergens, inhaled irritants and temperature changes, a swimmer may find that she is more prone to developing one. This is due to the fact that while swimming, water from the pool can find its way into the nasal passages and be breathed further up into nasal passages. Chlorine from the water can burn and irritate the sinus lining, causing it to become inflamed. In some cases, bacteria that the chlorine did not eliminate may be present in the water and could find its way into your sinus cavities, causing infection.


Swimming can also further irritate the sinus cavities if infection is already present. Chlorine in the water can cause more inflammation and blockage of the passages, aggravating symptoms and making the sufferer more miserable.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of a sinus infection include headache, fever, pain in nose, teeth and cheek area, cough and mucus drainage. Sinus infections can last up to eight weeks or longer if not properly treated. Most can be treated and eliminated with antibiotics.


You can take steps to avoid a sinus infection or further irritation of one already present while swimming. Purchase nose plugs or clips from your local sporting good store. This will keep water out of nasal passages while swimming. Always rinse nasal passages with saline solution or a neti pot after swimming to wash away any water containing chlorine or bacteria that may have found its way into the nasal passages.

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About the Author

Wendy Morgan has been writing professionally since 2003, writing for Anderson University's annual literary publication "Ivy Leaves" as well as the campus newspaper. She writes and edits educational brochures for Tri-County Technical college and holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Anderson University.