Swimming in British seas raises people’s risk of illness by more than 70 per cent, new research suggests.
Bathing or taking part in water sports raises swimmers’ risk of developing earache by 77 per cent, according to the first study of its kind.
Spending time in local coastal waters also increases people’s likelihood of developing gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, by 29 per cent, the research adds.
Previous research found British seawater can contain bacteria such as E.coli, which can lead to life-threatening diarrhoea, and enterococcus, which is associated with wound infections.
Study author Dr Anne Leonard from the University of Exeter, said: ‘In high-income countries like the UK, there is a perception that there is little risk to health of spending time in the sea.
‘However, our paper shows that spending time in the sea does increase the probability of developing illnesses, such as ear ailments and problems involving the digestive system, such as stomach ache and diarrhoea.’
Although most people will recover from such illnesses, the researchers warn they can be serious in the elderly or very young.
Swimming in British seas raises people’s risk of illness by more than 70 per cent (stock)
DOES SWIMMING EASE PAIN?
Swimming in cold water could be an alternative to strong painkillers, doctors believe.
A short, sharp plunge into the open sea cured a British man of the debilitating pain he had been suffering for two and a half months.
Experts at Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia have now called for research into cold-water therapy as a treatment for serious pain, in light of his case.
Doctors believe the shock of sudden immersion may have disrupted his nervous system, jolting him out of a cycle of pain.
Writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports, Dr Tom Mole from UEA, and Pieter Mackeith from Cambridge, report the ‘unexpected, immediate, complete and sustained remission’ of the persistent pain suffered by a 28-year-old patient following an operation.
The man, who is not named, had been suffering from debilitating pain for 10 weeks when he decided to jump from a rocky outcrop into the sea ‘as distraction’.
He said: ‘I initially thought – “damn this is so cold I’m going to die!”
‘I just swam for my life – Once I was in the water, I had tunnel vision – for the first time in months, I completely forgot about the pain or the fear of shooting pains in my chest if I moved.
‘My entire body tingled with the cold.
‘I just knew if I didn’t keep swimming, I’d soon freeze.
‘After a few moments I actually enjoyed it – it was just an immersive rush of adrenaline. I bet I couldn’t have felt my pain, even if I tried’.
He added: ‘When I came out of the water, I realised the neuropathic pain had gone away. I couldn’t believe it.’
‘Pollution affects swimmers in some of the world’s richest countries’
Speaking of the findings, Dr Leonard added: ‘We think that this indicates that pollution is still an issue affecting swimmers in some of the world’s richest countries.’
Study author Dr Will Gaze, stressed people should not be put off sea swimming but rather be aware of the risks, saying: ‘We don’t want to deter people from going into the sea, which has many health benefits such as improving physical fitness, wellbeing and connecting with nature.
‘However, it is important that people are aware of the risks so they can make informed decisions.
‘Although most people will recover from infections with no medical treatment, they can prove more serious for vulnerable people, such as the very old or very young, or those with pre-existing health conditions.
‘We have come a long way in terms of cleaning up our waters, but our evidence shows there is still work to be done. We hope this research will contribute to further efforts to clean up our coastal waters.’
How the research was carried out
The researchers analysed 40 studies investigating the link between swimming in the sea and developing illnesses, such as skin, eye or ear infections.
Of the 40 investigations, 19 were conducted in the US, eight in the UK, four in Australia, two in New Zealand, two in Spain and one each in Denmark, Greece, Mexico, Norway and Turkey.
In total, the studies included more than 120,000 participants.
The findings were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.