Asthma and the competitive swimmer

What is Asthma?

Asthma is very common; typically, it causes coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. These symptoms are often brought on by irritating fumes, exercise and cold air. Some people’s airways narrow down during exercise. This is known as exercise-induced asthma or exercise-induced bronchospasm. Having a cold or other respiratory infection can make asthma worse and the effects may continue for some weeks. In nearly all cases, however, asthma can be managed with treatment, and swimmers can help prevent attacks by using inhalers.

Swimming pools and asthma

Unfortunately for swimmers, chloramines in swimming pools may be a trigger in some asthmatics. If we take the Olympic Games in Beijing as an example, the use of some asthma inhalers was highest among swimmers, synchronized swimmers and triathletes. These swimmers spend more time in the water than anyone else and the long training hours mean that their lungs are exposed to larger doses of chloramines. In 2014, a study revealed that more than 70 percent of Britain’s top swimmers have asthma. Competitive swimmers who have asthma should therefore take a few extra precautions:

  1. Always start your session with a proper warm-up
  2. Always carry a reliever inhaler with you
  3. Always talk to your GP or hospital doctor if you feel your breathing has deteriorated and/or your symptoms become more frequent.

Remember: numerous successful elite swimmers have asthma. As long as your asthma is under good control, it won’t hinder your sport performance.

What if I get asthma in the pool?

If you have asthma while swimming, get out of the pool, rest and take your reliever inhaler immediately.

What if I forget to bring my reliever inhaler to swim training?

Your blue reliever inhaler is prescribed for you personally. Swimmers should never share inhalers. Consequently, you should not swim without your inhaler poolside if you are an asthmatic swimmer.

All blue asthma reliever inhalers must be brought onto poolside before your swimming session. Inhalers are not waterproof and should be placed in a dry location to avoid getting water inside them (not mesh kit bag), otherwise you can get a chest infection/cough from using an inhaler with old pool water in it.
Medication and doping

For anti-doping information including rules, checking medication and laws for aquatic sports see:

Visit to check your own medication and the status of its use.


What to do if a swimmer has an asthma attack in the water?

The swimmer concerned should be removed immediately from the water. The swimmer should be reassured and calmed, encouraged not to hyperventilate and given one to two puffs of their usual reliever inhaler.

If there is no response after 5 minutes, this can be repeated. If, after this has been done and the swimmer is still distressed, unduly short of breath, has a rapid pulse or becoming blue around the lips, medical help should be sought urgently and, if necessary, an ambulance called.