Michael Phelps’ star performance in the Olympics may inspire countless people to jump into the pool this summer with visions of gold on their minds. But a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report demonstrates there may be some risk involved in doing so.

Chlorine used in pools is widely recognized as a health hazard. New research shows that children who swim frequently in chlorinated pools may have a higher risk of allergies and asthma (1). Adults who swim in frequently swim in chlorinated pools show signs of other diseases, including bladder and rectal cancer.

Teenagers who swam in chlorinated pools for more than 1,000 hours were found to have more than eight times the risk of developing allergies and asthma than those who swam in pools with a copper silver disinfecting method. It was also found that hay fever and other allergies more than double with significant swim time in chlorinated pools. Other irritants can be released when chlorine is mixed with sweat, urine or other organic matter which also increase the risk of asthma. This irritant, trichloramine, can damage the cellular barrier that protects the lungs. The surprise is that this irritant is not only found in the people who swim in the pool, it is also found in those that sit on the side of the pool not swimming but still breathing in the fumes.

Inhaling chlorine fumes from around pools is unhealthy for your lungs, but it also damages other parts of body. Nationally, more than 4,000 cases of pool-chemical illness have been reported annually to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. While many of them are for respiratory symptoms, many of them are also due to eye or skin irritation.

Swimming is a wonderful way to exercise. It helps to strengthen your heart and lungs while sparing your joints. It is an ideal way to exercise for an aging population. Don’t give up swimming because of the pool chemicals. Instead, ask questions about the pool you swim in. Find out if there are certified operators who have had training in how to properly disinfect the pool. If you are planning to install a pool at home, consider an all-natural pool. If your pool does have chlorine, make sure to use goggles to protect your eyes. Shower and rinse off immediately after swimming and leave the pool area (if indoor) and inhale deeply to flush the gas out of your system.

1.) Bernard, A. “Impact of Chlorinated Swimming Pool Attendance on the Respiratory Health of Adolescents.” Pediatrics. 124 (2009):1110-1118.

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