Asthma UK community forum

Open Water Swimming

Hi All,

My triathlon training requires me to practice and train in open water which is usually a dock, lake or reservoir. I wear a wetsuit (which is the correct fit) but despite increasing my Seretide 125 to 2 puffs the night before and on the morning and then also taking my Ventolin before any training I still wheeze badly the whole way around and it's really affecting my performance and confidence. The problem is the compression combined with the colder water as once I'm out or in a normal pool I'm absolutely fine.

Any tips please on controlling asthma during open water swimming when wearing a wetsuit?!!

10 Replies


difficult I know, same thing has happened to me. I openwater swim as well. Could try warm-up exercises on land first, and get in the water and don't start swimming straight away, that I found was the worst thing I could do. Give the body and the lungs time to adjust. Also slow down and relax, I know for a race not ideal but strangely does seem better in the long run, triathlons are not just a swim, you have two more parts and need something left in the tank. Last OW event I did, 10mins in my lungs said stop, how in the middle of the sea, so rolled onto my back and did a few mins relaxed backstroke giving the lungs time to readjust, then swam the rest of the event front crawl no problems.

Are you sure the wetsuit is the correct size, on land they should be restrictive but once in the water they fill up and create a warm area of water around you, loosen up and not restrict breathing in anyway, I know the neck on my suit was tight to start with but first swim and it was fine. Obviously water is cold this time of year so two swim caps keep you warm if you like.


Hi and thanks for your quick reply!

I try and spend a few minutes getting used to the water when I first get in which does seem to help a little. I'm new to triathlons and have been told that the wetsuit fit is perfect. I know this is a girly issue too but most triathletes (women mainly ; )) are flat chested and I'm not which might add to the compression feeling!

I don't really want to fork out for another wetsuit as they are quite expensive!

I wish i could just take a magic pill that forces the airways open for a couple of hours!


if you bought the wetsuit from a proper shop then they should have taken your body type into account, some brands of wetsuit are gender specific but I agree they are expensive.

Maybe some of the symptoms are down purely to nerves, slightly out of normal surroundings of a pool. No lane lines, no end of the pool to take a quick breather and dirty cold water. Fear of not being able to stop and rest, well with a wetsuit you can roll onto your back and just float without sinking, thank god as I sink like a stone. Just take the first few swims as a really slow and easy, may allay the fear if that's what it is and help with the asthma.


would add, hopefully this will soon be on the market, looks quite good for open water swimming.


Yeah I got a proper fitting at a triathlon specific shop and even brought my ironman friend along with me for extra advice!

I'm pretty confident in the water and have no problems with major anxiety - the drop in confidence comes from a direct result of the wheezing and not being to do as well as I ought to.

I regularly take breaks during my OW sessions because my asthma dictates it so - I've not once been able to complete a full lap without several 'breathing' stops.

It's so frustrating as I feel I am doing everything I possibly can - increasing my meds, a properly fitted wetsuit, staying calm and relaxed, acclimatising, being confident, taking breaks during the swim, keeping as warm as possible in and out of the water and not putting pressure on myself to always do front crawl and doing breastroke whilst I recover..........etc! Drives me mad!!


The lifehaler is such a good idea - I only asked my nurse this morning about waterproof inhalers! She said there is none so fingers crossed this little baby gets released!


One option that might be worth considering talking to your GP/consultant about is salbutamol tablets. Taken about 30 minutes before exercise, they help to keep the airways open. They're actually a pretty old treatment (used before inhalers) but might just do the trick for you. They seem to help me a bit with swimming in cold water.


Thanks Ratty - I'll mention that to the GP as I'm running out of ideas! It's so frustrating. My peak flow etc is very good (580) and this is the only time it actually really inhibits me. Anything is worth a shot!


Update! I rang the GP today and are scheduled into a phone consultation to discuss the possibility if using ventolin tablets before my swimming. I'll let you know how it all goes - fingers crossed!


UPDATE: Spoke to GP yesterday and had a long chat. He has never prescribed Ventolin tablets before but is willing to give it a try. Has given me 5 at 4mg dose so will give it ago.

I'm not open water swimming now for a couple of weeks due to business but will let everyone know how I get on - thanks so much to everyone, it's so nice to speak about all this stuff without fear of 'boring' your other half as they have heard it all before.

Thanks! x


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