Chlorinated Pools and Eye Health
Ralph Morris, MD, MPH

Chlorinated Pools and Eye HealthThe recent Wall Street Journal article “Does Chlorine Affect Your Vision?” provides excellent advice to swimmers on avoiding inflammation and infections of the eye known as conjunctivitis. To elaborate a bit, conjunctivitis, also called “pink eye” can be caused by three main conditions:  infections, allergies, and exposures to chemicals. Chlorinating swimming pool water goes a long way toward preventing conjunctivitis caused by bacterial and viral infections, and proper swimming pool chemistry optimizes swimmer eye, skin and respiratory comfort.

Good pool chemistry plays a key role in maintaining healthy pools for swimmers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls chlorine and pH “the first defense against germs that can make swimmers sick.” In fact, when trace levels of chlorine are maintained in swimming pool water at the right pH, chlorine is on “guard duty” against a wide range of bacteria and viruses introduced into pools by swimmers that can cause a host of problems besides conjunctivitis, including gastrointestinal upset, swimmer’s ear and skin infections.

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs more commonly with individuals who already have seasonal allergies. Additionally, some people may be sensitive to some chemicals in swimming pool waters. Wearing swimming goggles is a good idea for both of these types of inflammation of the eye. For pool water in the pH range of 7.2 to 7.8, and free chlorine levels between 1 – 3 parts per million, both germ destruction and swimmer comfort are optimized.  That’s why it is so important that pool managers monitor and maintain the pH and chlorine levels appropriately.

Getting the Swimmer Involved in Maintaining Healthy Pools

Swimmers may not realize that in addition to responsible swimming pool management, they too can play a key role in ensuring proper pool chemistry. By practicing good hygiene swimmers can help minimize the formation of irritating disinfection byproducts formed when urine, perspiration and cosmetics combine with chlorine. A recent survey showed that many swimmers don’t shower before swimming and one in five admit to having peed in a pool.  Swimmer hygiene matters when it comes to a healthy pool:  Shower before swimming and don’t pee in the pool!

The Water Quality & Health Council also encourages swimmers to test pool water with a free pool test kit before getting in the pool. Swimmers can measure the pH and free chlorine level of the pool to ensure readings are appropriate.  Our free offer is available until the end of summer. If readings are out of the acceptable range, we urge swimmers to direct their concerns to the pool manager. If the response is less than satisfactory, a complaint to the public health department should be the next step.

In short, healthy swimming—for good eye health and overall well-being—is a joint effort between pool managers and swimmers. We cordially invite you to participate.

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

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