Swimming can be a fun activity to improve cardiovascular endurance, build muscular strength, maintain a healthy weight, alleviate stress, and provide a low-impact workout on joints.
It serves as another outlet for novice and elite individuals to maintain physical fitness without the constant impact of running, the stress of weightlifting, or the sometimes tediousness of yoga.
And with most physical activities, there can be joint pain, muscle tightness, general soreness, and fatigue.
While these symptoms are usual occurrences with physical fitness, some symptoms like suffering from dizziness after swimming can be less frequent.
Understanding how dizziness can occur from swimming and how to combat it can be helpful for those interested in having a swimming program in their fitness routine.
Sources of the Problem?
Though dizziness after swimming is mild, brief, and not necessarily a cause for medical attention, it can be exacerbated by several different factors.
Anything from diet, hydration, inner ear infections, and other factors contribute to the prevalence of dizziness after swimming.
Being mindful of these factors can influence your swimming performance and recovery!
For guidance on swimming techniques, read our article on the essential swimming strokes!
The Ol' Swimmer's Ear
A common source of dizziness after swimming is otitis externa, known by its common name, swimmer's ear.
Swimmer's ear is inflammation, irritation, and infection of the outer ear canal. It is typically caused by water remaining within the ear canal after swimming.
The trapped fluid creates a moist environment within the ear canal, which can cause bacteria to manifest, affecting the equilibrium.
While trapped fluid can be the prime suspect for the swimmer's ear, it can also be caused by being in a humid environment, scratching the inner ear with q tips or fingernail, and even having extra ear wax.
If left untreated, otitis externa can develop into malignant otitis externa, which can cause dizziness or numbness of the face.
Pay Attention to the Symptoms!
Even with a mild case of swimmer's ear, it is essential to see a doctor.
Mild cases are treated with ear drops and over the counter anti-inflammatories to help kill bacteria and reduce irritation and swelling.
You can also wear earplugs to prevent water from getting caught within the inner ear during a swim.
More intense symptoms of swimmer's ear like decreased hearing, radiating pain down neck and face, intense pain, and fever are all cause for alarm.
These symptoms require an immediate call to a doctor or visit an emergency room.
While swimming, sudden movement of the head and neck can be jarring for the body.
Sometimes, these movements can cause you to have a false sense of spinning or movement.
This sensation is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV):
BPPV is a common inner ear disorder affecting balance, spatial perception, and coordination.
The easiest way to describe how BPPV occurs involves understanding some anatomy within the inner ear.
Within the inner ear, there is the utricle, which serves as a balancing system along with the saccule.
These two organs function to sense gravity, register movement, and correct equilibrium. These organs store small calcified "stones" called otoconia.
During movement, these stones can become detached and flow within the fluid-filled spaces of the inner ear.
With any change in the head's position, the movement of these stones can affect the balance and equilibrium of the person, causing dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
Examples of this head movement include standing up quickly, looking up or down too fast, or getting up from a lying to a seated position.
Who is Affected and How to Treat?
You commonly see BPPV in older individuals. Over time otoconia can become degraded and diminished in size.
However, BPPV can be caused during strenuous activity, like swimming, at any age. As far as treatment goes, BPPV can be treated more manually, without pills or surgeries.
The most common treatment to combat BPPV is the Epley Maneuver.
This maneuver is done by a trained physician, manipulating the head into different positions, in hopes of moving displaced otoconia back into their proper position within the ear canal.
You can also do home physical therapy programs at the individual's leisure.
As stated previously, the position and movement of the head and neck are essential factors in developing dizziness or nausea after swimming.
Feelings of seasickness or motion sickness can be common occurrences in a pool or open water swimming.
The constant movement of the head, dizziness, and balance issues after the swim session can be debilitating and worrisome.
Focus on Sight
When swimming laps in a pool, a good rule of thumb is to focus on the line at the bottom of the pool, while practicing good swimming technique.
This way, there is limited movement of the head, and change of position would only occur while taking a breath.
During each stroke, you can reduce excess movement, and the chances of dizziness or motion sickness are minimal.
While swimming in open water, it's helpful to look at something in a fixed position, like the horizon or the bottom of the water.
Focusing on a fixed object can help calm the brain and relieve feelings of dizziness or nausea.
Stay Hydrated, Not Full
While swimming, it's important to maintain proper hydration and diet to reduce dizziness due to low blood sugar or dehydration.
Hydration can be especially crucial if a swimmer plans to have a more extended swimming session. Though swimmers are literally surrounded by water, they do not actively replenish any fluids they may lose in their sweat.
Dehydration can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, headaches, and nausea. It is imperative to be well hydrated beforehand while being careful not to drink too much water. Otherwise, you might experience cramping, fatigue, and discomfort.
Diet can also be an essential factor in trying to combat dizziness after swimming. While we all had our mothers warn us about not going swimming after eating a meal, smaller meals can be helpful during swimming.
Having a small snack before swimming can help maintain proper blood sugar levels during activity.
Eating can help ensure the swimmer does not suffer from low blood sugar, which can cause dizziness, headaches, lightheadedness, blurred vision, or shakiness.
Find What Works for You
Dizziness after swimming can be debilitating, frustrating and worrisome. But it doesn't have to become a common ailment in the future.
The best defense for reducing the chance of dizziness post-swim is proactive.
Changing your hydration/diet tactics, wearing earplugs to limit water getting into your ears, or focusing on your sight can be beneficial in providing a safe and productive swim session.
Everyone is different. What works for one person may not be what is best for someone else.
Understanding how bouts of dizziness arise can be a daunting task, but not one you must take on yourself.
Speaking with a physician about your own experiences can help guide you on the road to prevention and recovery.