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3 Surprising Illnesses You Can Get From Swimming (And How To Avoid Them)

Whether you’re hanging out by the pool, traveling to a nearby lake or going on a beach vacation, spending time by some body of water makes the summer heat bearable (and way more fun).

Once you’ve picked your favorite swim spot, it’s time to pack the essentials. Make sure you don’t forget to bring something to read (whether its gossip magazines or that book you’ve been meaning to start), stylish sunnies, a comfy cover-up, SPF and water (lots of water)—all those items that are sure to keep you happy and healthy all day long. 

Unfortunately, though, one thing you can’t exactly pack for is all the germs you may encounter in the water. But let’s not dwell on this major summer bummer! 

While germs may be an inevitable part of swimming, Hira Kohli, MD, a primary care provider at the GMC Primary Care & Specialty Center-Suwanee, shares what you need to know about the most common illnesses, symptoms to spot and tips to keep germs at bay.

1. Potty Problems. Nothing stops a pool party faster than a case of diarrhea. Oddly enough, that’s one of the most common illnesses you can pick up from swimming in lakes, pools and the ocean. The germs that cause this dreaded symptom are a mouthful—cryptosporidi-um, giardia or shigella—you get the point.

Symptoms to watch for: While your tummy troubles may be the result of too much ice cream, if you have persistent diarrhea (5+ days), chills, fever, dry mouth, flushed skin or a headache, it’s time to see a medical expert.

How to avoid it: Unfortunately, many of the common culprits that cause diarrhea can survive for days in bodies of water. The best way to prevent getting sick is to be sure that you don’t swallow any water—not even a tiny amount. And if you’re at the beach, minimize digging in the sand as some germs are buried underneath the surface.

2. Skin Struggles. As if you didn’t have enough to worry about with bug bites, poison ivy, and sunburns, now there are rashes that you can get from swimming in lakes, pools and the ocean. Everything from the infamous hot-tub rash (pools and fresh water) and swimmer’s itch (fresh water) to staph infections (ocean) and more are surprisingly common.

Symptoms to watch for: While most of these rashes appear as itchy, red bumps (like bug bites) within the first 48 hours, if they escalate to large blisters or abscesses, and/or last for more than 5 days, make sure to see your healthcare provider.

How to avoid it: For starters, one of the best things you can do is steer clear of the hot tub. There are two reasons for this: bacteria and germs thrive in warm water, and chlorine and other protective chemicals break down much faster in hot water. Also, make sure to rinse off after you’re done swimming, get all of those irritants off your skin ASAP.

3. Breathing Barriers. No one tries to breathe in water, because when you do, it stings like crazy. However, getting a nose full of water isn’t just annoying, it could also make you sick. In fact, breathing in just a little bit of water (steam or mist) can cause a lung infection, thanks to the bacteria Legionella.

Symptoms to watch for: In some instances, symptoms are mild and resemble the flu—fever, headaches and all-over aches—that go away within 2 to 4 days. In more serious cases, you’ll experience pneumonia-like symptoms, including coughing, fever, and lethargy. If your symptoms last longer than just a few days, it’s time for care from your medical expert.

How to avoid it: Legionella loves warm water. So if you can’t resist that steamy hot tub, make sure that it’s routinely cleaned and disinfected. Make a splash.

The sad truth is there are germs just about everywhere, so why would we assume that swim spots are any different? But you shouldn’t let all those yucky germs keep you from enjoying ample splash time this summer.

To help you just keep swim-ming—and enjoying all the best parts of summer—the experts at the GMC Primary Care & Specialty Center-Suwanee offer latest treatment options, up-to-date technology, and a spa-like environment all in a convenient location that’s close to home. To learn more or schedule a primary care appointment, visit