Infections related to swimming

Swimming can sometimes lose some of its charm when health issues, such as infections, occur.

Carelessness or awareness

Both the old and the young like to take advantage of the countless virtues of swimming to cool down, relax, have fun, and enjoy themselves. Moreover, a great number of people impatiently wait for the summer to enjoy the water. Whether it’s by the ocean, lakes, rivers, pools or spas, there are as many opportunities to swim as there are to shout for joy and sigh for relief.

Although swimming is often synonymous with pleasure and good times, it’s important to keep in mind that it is never completely without health and safety risks. For example, water can be contaminated by micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites or blue-green algae) or by various pollutants. Health issues related to bathing water usually appear between 24 to 48 hours after swimming.

This text is intended to provide information on certain health risks associated to swimming.


Swimmer’s ear

Otitis externa (outer ear infection) is an inflammation of the external auditory canal that can result from the presence of an infection. Symptoms may include pain, itching, and the sensation of having a blocked ear. This type of otitis often occurs after swimming when moisture accumulates in the auditory canal. Swimmer’s ear is the most common form and the most well-known otitis externa. Certain measures can help to prevent or relieve symptoms.

For additional information, read the following text: Swimmer's ear—prevention and treatment.


Swimmer’s itch

Swimmer’s itch is a skin irritation caused by small larvae called “cercariae” that are present inside some lakes. This type of dermatitis is manifested by itching and the appearance of small swollen red plaques that resemble those produced by insect stings. Symptoms can last for about a week or two.


Vaginal yeast infections

Vaginal yeast infections occur due to the proliferation of certain micro-organisms (called “yeast” or “fungus”) naturally present inside the vagina. This proliferation changes the normal protective acidity of the vagina, causing a painful infection that must be treated. Vaginal yeast infections can occur after exposure to certain factors, such as bathing water.

For additional information, read the following text: How to prevent yeast infections caused by swimming and Recognizing and treating a yeast infection.



Gastroenteritis is most often a viral infection that affects the digestive tract, more specifically, the stomach and intestines. It causes an inflammation to these organs, which leads to the condition’s typical symptoms: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and so on. Aside from the discomfort associated to it, gastroenteritis increases the risk of dehydration. The germs that cause gastroenteritis may be present in bathing water.

Read the following text: Gastroenteritis for additional information about this infection.


Blue-green algae

Blue-green algae are micro-organisms usually found in small quantities in bodies of water. When they multiply excessively, they become harmful to health. Blue-green algae contaminated water can cause symptoms such as stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and skin and throat irritations. Blue-green algae can be recognized when green or turquoise water or scum is observed on the water surface.

For additional information, read the following text: Blue-green algae: the effects on health.



Legionellosis is an infection caused by the Legionella bacteria. There are two types of legionellosis: one is harmless (pontiac fever) and the other is more serious (legionnaire disease). Symptoms associated to the harmless type present flu-like symptoms and generally appear two days after having been in contact with the bacteria. The harmless type does not require treatment in most cases. Although rare in Quebec, the serious type of legionellosis presents itself as pneumonia that requires rigorous care and antibiotic therapy. It is manifested 2 to 10 days after exposure.

Legionella bacteria thrive in water and easily multiply; that is why they can be found in lakes, rivers, brooks, and spas.



Most infections caused by contact with bathing water disappear on their own without treatment. Only legionellosis must be treated with antibiotics. Vaginal yeast infections may require an antifungal treatment. Whether treatment is required or not, it is often possible to relieve the affected person’s symptoms or to maintain health using various measures and medication. Your pharmacist can provide information on the subject. Don’t hesitate to speak to a pharmacist.

See a doctor if your symptoms worsen or persist, or if they are severe, unusual or alarming. It is important to obtain a diagnosis and to receive the subsequent care. Be sure to mention to the healthcare professional you consult that you have been swimming and specify the location.

For more information on infection related to swimming, consult your pharmacist.


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Infections related to swimming

Swimming can sometimes lose some of its charm when health issues, such as infections, occur.
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