Water in Lungs
What happens to the water when you accidentally get some
in your lungs while swimming?
Well, water rarely actually gets into your lungs while you are swimming, at
least not to a very deep level. If you end
up having water "go down the wrong tube" (aka your trachea) your body inacts
a coughing mechanism by which
that water is expelled. The very furthest water might go is your bronchii,
the branch right after your trachea; but
coughing generally gets everything out and gets you on your way!!
Retired NCAA Division I Swimmer
For the water you don't cough up immediately, some you will exhale (as
water vapor) and some will be absorbed in the lung tissue and taken away in
1) the bulk of it gets coughed up immediately. It's a reflex.
2) the remainder soaks into the mucus lining the surface of your lungs,
making it wetter and thinner than usual.
So the body compensates a little, and in some minutes it's back to normal.
Some of this water has, in effect, diffused right into your body.
3) small foreign molecules such as salts and chlorine (sodium hypochlorite)
easily diffuse thru lung membranes into your bloodstream and body.
If the pool chlorine is much higher than normal it may irritate your lungs.
4) large particles get stuck in the surface mucus and are eventually
pushed by cilia up into the throat, riding the normal (unconscious) flow
of mucus that always keeps your lungs clean.
5) sizes in between: biological particles such as bacteria
have a relatively easy chance to enter the body.
The discomfort is temporary.
The chance for catching a cold may be more important.
If you accidentally get water in your lungs while swimming; you will begin
to choke and cough. This is your body's way of getting rid of the water that
is not supposed to be in there as soon as possible. The water does not stay
in your lungs.
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Update: June 2012