Pulmonary edema is fluid collecting within the airspaces (alveoli) of the lungs. Although it is uncommon we know this can occur in open water swimmers and we have had cases occur in the Rottnest Channel Swim. Just what causes the pulmonary oedema isn’t entirely clear. The condition is often referred to using the American acronym of SIPE (Swim Induced Pulmonary Edema).
The symptoms are cough with frothy sputum (sometimes blood stained) and increasing shortness of breath (out of proportion to what would normally be expected during the swim). The competitor will usually be aware of this themselves unless they are impaired for some other reason such as hypothermia.
Once the condition is recognised treatment is to remove the swimmer from the water and get them warm and dry. Keep them sitting up, as lying down will worsen the shortness of breath. These measures in themselves are often enough to relieve the worst symptoms. Nevertheless medical care will still be required so call Channel Swim base for assistance.