Swimming and your health

HARTFORD — Summer is here and that means swimming in pools, ponds, lakes, and oceans!

Just about everyone has been told by their parents to wait at least an hour to swim after eating a meal. This is a common old wives tale, where people feared that eating would deflect blood flow to the stomach and you would get muscle cramps and drown. No one has ever reported an actual case of drowning due to eating food, but 70 percent of adults who drown had alcohol in their system, so if you are too drunk to drive, don’t go for a swim.

Another problem that is common during the summer is swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear is caused by an infection of the ear canal. Swimming keeps these ear canals wet and bacteria can grow inside. People will feel some itchiness in their ear and in more severe forms, white pus with pain.

The good news is that it can be readily treated with antibiotic or acidic ear drops. These ear drops usually have a corticosteroid in them to reduce inflammation. The best way to apply the ear drops is to lie on your side with the infected ear facing up and have someone else put them in. Sometimes warming the drop bottle in your hand for a minute or two before putting it in can ease the discomfort of putting it in.

To prevent swimmer’s ear, experts recommend tilting the head from side to side to let the water flow out. While using a Q-tip to dry the ear can help if you gently apply the Q-tip, people usually get a little rough and this can cause some small cracks in the ear canal skin and actually make swimmer’s ear more likely. If you are prone to having swimmer’s ear, use ear plugs to prevent water from lingering in the canal.

In general, swimming is great exercise and a wonderful activity. But before going to a lake or beach, double check that the State of Connecticut has not closed the area due to high levels of bacteria. Very often these bacteria can cause vomiting and diarrhea if you drink it and that definitely doesn’t make for a pleasant summer experience.

– Dr. Michael White from the UConn School of Pharmacy