If you have health issues and want to swim, don*t worry. Many common complaints such as asthma, verrucas and eczema can be handled effectively in the pool, and the health benefits of swimming will always be there. Here is a look at some of the most common health concerns raised by swimmers strategies to manage them.
Asthma and Swimming
Swimming actually has huge benefits for asthmatics, and many sufferers excel in the sport. The controlled breathing that is required to swim helps asthma sufferers to regulate their breath and can reduce the number of attacks. However, it is important that swimmers do have an inhaler to hand if they have been advised to use one in the event of an attack.
The condition is very common indeed and affects 1 in 7 children in the UK, along with 1 in 25 adults. However, many asthmatics do become excellent swimmers. For inspiration you only need to look at fellow sufferers such as Adrian Moorhouse, who won gold in the 100m breaststroke event in the Seoul Olympics, or Rebecca Adlington, the four-time medal winner at the London and Beijing Olympic Games.
The key is to use the medication that your doctor has advised you to use. There are two main categories: asthma relief, and prevention. Both are delivered via an inhalation mechanism and have colour coding to assist with identification.
Relievers are coloured in blue – one common one is branded as Ventolin. These act to open the user*s airways and encourage easy breathing. They tend to be used following the appearance of symptoms but can also be used in some cases to offer a brief period of protection against certain key attack triggers, including exercise.
Users swimming competitively must be very careful to stay within advised levels of maximum dosage, using the WADA guidelines accordingly. The only exception is in an emergency. High levels of use may ultimately trigger a positive result in a competition situation for doping. In a sports context, the blue inhaler can also be used for preventative purposes if the user feels that training may lead to an attack. Ideally, this should be taken around 15 minutes before the start of training – for example, when arriving at the pool. The effects last two to three hours, so repeated use within a training session shouldn*t be necessary.
These products can effectively prevent the occurrence of an asthma attack by protecting the delicate airway lining and preventing it from narrowing. There are two primary types of product in this category. Inhalers based on steroids, such as beclomethasone (marketed as Becotide) are coloured brown. Cell membrane stabilisers using sodium cromoglyclate (marketed as Intal) are coloured white.
These products are not suitable for treating an asthma attack, as they will not provide immediate relief. With regular use, they can take up to 14 days for their effects to kick in. If the condition is triggered through an allergy, sodium cromoglycate is a useful product, and some doctors may also prescribe additional oral tablets or long-acting inhaler products as a back-up control measure.
To treat asthma, the British Thoracic Association sets the standard, and it offers a guideline plan to manage the condition. This essentially involves moving up different treatment levels until control is attained. The user is encouraged to step down a level if their symptoms are successfully brought under control, and over-treatment is cautioned against.
To test the medication you take, and its status within anti-doping regulations, a good resource to visit is www.globaldro.com
Remember too that the breathing taught in swimming will offer excellent preventative and management strategies for those who struggle with asthma, helping swimmers to stay in control of their breathing and manage it calmly and in a controlled manner.
Protecting the Skin
Prolonged periods of time in the pool can dry even the healthiest skin due to high chlorine levels. This can lead to itchiness, red patches and even eczema, particularly for those with allergies. Some people, including swimming legend Ian Thorpe, are allergic to chlorine and must take special care with their skin regime. Happily, there are several practical steps that you can take to enjoy healthy skin in the pool.
Firstly, remember that dehydration is a key cause of skim damage, especially when chlorine is present. You can prevent this by drinking water regularly before, during and after your training session. The easiest way to assess your hydration level is to check your urine. It should never be a darker colour than light yellow. Don*t overload your system with periodic influxes of high-volume hydration. Instead, drink little and often, and carry water with you. Some swimmers also like to use sports drinks, but your body simply needs water from a hydration perspective (and many commercial preparations offering high energy and performance boosts are simply full of sugar and caffeine).
After you swim, take a good long shower to make sure your skin is completely clean and that no chlorine is present on the surface. Also wash your swimming costume thoroughly after your session – this will prevent rashes and help your costume to last for as long as possible too.
Pay careful attention to any areas of rubbing and chafing – around costume edges particularly. If you find any, protect them with a good layer of Vaseline, or they will become susceptible to further damage.
You may also want to look around at different pools to find if some suit your skin more than others. Chlorine concentrations do differ, and some pools are even based on ‘Ozone’ systems, which have very tiny proportions of the chemical compared to standard pools.
Use a good-quality emollient on your skin to keep it soft, conditioned and hydrated. This needn*t be expensive – E45 or an Aqueous cream will do the trick. Other good brands include Dermol lotion, and your pharmacist may be able to recommend others as needed. Simply apply a liberal layer after your swimming session, and repeat this as often as needed. Rub it in well and allow the lotion to absorb into your skin before you dress. Just be careful with creams made from Lanolin, as some people do have allergies to them. If your skin is very dry and suffering from eczema, speak to your chemist about buying a preparation made from 0.5pc hydrocortisone. This will make a rapid difference. If problems still persist, go and see your doctor.
Dealing with Verrucas
Most swimmers will have had a verruca at least once in their life, and children seem to be the most prone to picking them up in leisure centre pools. They are essentially warts on the feet, and they are a real nuisance. They are highly infectious and painful, and a lot of effort has been put into trying to rid swimming pools of verrucas, but to little avail. Most pool managers and coaches view them as being a nuisance only. Like most types of wart, a verruca is simply a viral infection that affects the different layers of growing skin. the feet can be protected by using a latex swim sock. The virus attacks where the skin is damaged, which explains why children are more susceptible due to their developing immune systems and tendency to have small cuts and grazes on their feet, hands and knees. Skin on the feet is easily damaged when wet, especially when walking over foot mats.
Most people gain immunity in time, as with most viruses. Usually, by the time a swimmer is a teenager, he or she will no longer be getting verrucas. Some immunity may also be affected by hormonal control.
Most skincare specialists and dermatologists prefer not to treat these plantar warts, as they are also known. Many believe that there is an advantage in allowing children to get verrucas so that they gain immunity. This is why children are generally no longer encouraged to wear plastic socks at the pool or elasticated knee bandages. A waterproof plaster is generally felt to be sufficient
Most enlightened swimming professionals also are happy to allow children with plantar warts to continue with their swimming practice and other barefoot activities, knowing that the benefits of physical exercise and sport far outweigh the irritation of having a verruca.
There are some cases where it is worth treating a plantar virus, but this is only when pain or tenderness on the sole of the foot becomes intolerable. This is usually because the wart has an accumulation of hard skin around it. A simple pumice stone can help to treat this problem. Most expensive wart treatments on chemists’ shelves should be avoided, as they don*t work to any real degree. Warts do eventually disappear, and they cause no harm. If a doctor does assess a nasty verruca and problems with it that do require treatment, curettage is offered under local anaesthetic. This is only for a very small number of nasty cases, however. The vast majority of cases can and should be left alone.
In conclusion, there is no reason to let your swimming dreams fade away if you experience these common problems. With a strategy to manage them and conversations with people that need to know about your condition, particularly your swimming coach, you can enjoy your sessions in the pool and greatly improve your health and well-being in the process.