Sore Throat After Swimming in a Lake

Outdoor swimming is one of summer’s pleasures. However, contaminated water in a lake can cause you to become ill with a sore throat after even just a short swim. Fortunately, you can prevent sore throat after swimming in a lake by changing your swimming style and heeding health warnings. You can also treat your symptoms at home with self-care measures.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


After swimming, your throat might feel raw, scratchy and sore for just an hour or up to several days, depending on the cause. Other people that you swam with might also experience a sore throat. In addition to a sore throat, you might also develop gastrointestinal problems, chills, fever and malaise.


Raw sewage that seeps into the lake from sanitary and storm sewer overflows, farms and septic tanks can cause you to develop symptoms of illness, including sore throat after swimming, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. This sewage could contain bacteria such as E. coli and fecal coliform, found in feces of animals and humans. When swallowed, these bacteria can cause sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Swallowing lake water containing chemical runoff from farming and lawn care could also cause you to develop a sore throat. Eating contaminated food from a picnic lunch before you swam could also result in a sore throat. And dehydration can cause your throat to feel sore, especially if you have been outdoors swimming for a long period of time without taking a break to rehydrate.


No medical treatment is necessary for minor cases of sore throats that result from swimming in water contaminated with bacteria and other microbes. You could try self-care measures at home such as drinking hot tea with honey, gargling with 1 tsp. of salt mixed into an 8 oz. glass of warm water -- or sipping warm clear fluids such as broth. Throat lozenges or anesthetic sprays might also help reduce your sore throat symptoms. Treat dehydration with fluids including water and non-caffeinated sports drinks. If your sore throat is accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and fever, seek medical evaluation.


Stay hydrated when outdoors at the lake by bringing a cooler with bottled water, lemonade and sports drinks, avoiding fluids containing caffeine and alcohol which can promote dehydration. Don't swim in lakes that have visible sources of runoff such as sewage pipes or visible human or animal waste on or near the water. Keeping your head above the lake water or swimming face up can help prevent you from swallowing any contaminated water. Check your area environmental or tourist information agency to determine if there are any safety alerts for the lake before you swim. Showering and changing out of your swimsuit into clean clothes after swimming in the lake can help prevent infection from any microbes or toxins that remain on your skin and hair.