Health Effects Of Chlorine In Swimming Pools

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

We all know that chlorine is used to keep pools clean and safe, but the bad news is that there can also be some health risks of swimming in water that’s been treated with this chemical. Chlorine isn’t all bad, but it’s important to understand what its potential health effects are and how to avoid any negative side effects from swimming in a chemically treated pool.

Short-Term Health Effects

Once the chlorine is in the water, people who are swimming or even just near the pool can be exposed to it by ingesting the water, inhaling its vapors or having their skin or eyes come into contact with the water. When people are exposed to swimming pool water which contains too much chlorine, they may experience some of the following side effects right away or soon after getting out of the pool:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A burning sensation in the throat
  • Bloody nose
  • Eye irritation
  • A burning sensation in the eyes
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • A burning or irritated feeling on the skin
  • Buildup of fluid in the lungs

It’s important to understand that the side effects of chlorine exposure may be much more severe when the contact or exposure occurs outside of the pool before the chemicals have been diluted in the water. This could occur while the chemicals are being applied. If you handle any pool-cleaning chemicals directly, consider wearing gloves, long sleeves and long pants while applying the chemicals to the pool. If the scent is especially strong, you may also want to use a face mask to avoid inhaling it.

Long-Term Health Effects

Numerous studies have been conducted to determine what the long-term effects of chlorine exposure may be. This may be a concern of those who spend a lot of time at swimming pools, whether it’s swimming athletes, swimming coaches, lifeguards or those who swim for exercise.

There are a few serious health risks associated with long-term exposure to chlorine:

  • Lung problems: Being exposed to low levels of chlorine gas may lead to certain diseases of the lung, including bronchitis. In addition, asthma could develop as a result of this type of exposure. This is more of a concern for those who frequent indoor pools since these locations are more likely to have a higher density of chlorine in the air.
  • Tooth corrosion: Long-term exposure to low levels of chlorine gas may also lead to tooth corrosion. Like lung diseases, this is also more of a concern at indoor pools.
  • Cancer: Studies have found that those who often swim in chlorinated pools may have an increased risk for cancer. This is based on the fact that these people experienced a rise in blood markers associated with cancer.

Treatment For Chlorine Exposure

As soon as you experience any of the short-term symptoms described above, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. It’s also important to immediate wash any chlorine away from the skin and eyes as soon as the symptoms develop.

Most people who experience problems with chlorine exposure can be easily treated by a doctor. Depending on the symptoms of the individual, different treatments may be given. In addition, the doctor will often be able to tell how the individual was exposed based on the symptoms which are present. For example, nausea and vomiting are generally the result of swallowing water with too much chlorine.

Tips For Protecting Your Health

In most cases, pools don’t contain enough chlorine to make you sick or cause health problems, especially if you only swim occasionally. However, it’s still important to take precautions that help reduce your risk of overexposure to chlorine. Here are a few tips for protecting yourself when you go swimming:

  • Wear goggles to help keep chlorine from getting into your eyes.
  • Wear a nose plug and keep your mouth closed to prevent ingesting water with too much chlorine.
  • Pay attention to the odors in the air when you are close to the pool. A very strong smell of chlorine doesn’t mean that the pool is extra-clean, it means it has too much chlorine.
  • Always take a shower with soap right after swimming in a pool to prevent skin irritation from the chlorine in the pool.
  • Don’t hang out in an indoor pool area more than you need to – there are more chemical vapors in the air, so limit your time in these areas to just when you are swimming if possible.

Bottom Line

It’s important to remember that when properly applied, pool-disinfecting chemicals don’t result in water that contains excessive amounts of chlorine. In addition, those who only swim occasionally have a reduced risk of developing health problems as a result of chlorine exposure. If you have concerns about how chlorine in swimming pools is affecting your health, talk to your doctor.


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