The Dangers of Chlorine
Some swimmers don’t develop any reaction to chlorine in the pool, but others do and their symptoms range from mild to severe. These reactions can include sore eyes, skin irritation, tightness in the chest, wheezing, sore throat and difficulty breathing.
Chlorine is not only present in our pools, but also in our drinking water. It is a chemical that is widely used in industry and business, being one of ten high-volume chemicals in the US. It is used to sanitize or purify waste and sewage systems. It is also an ingredient used in the manufacture of bleach. It is yellowish and has a pungent odor – reason why there is a certain odor when you are near pool areas or simply bleaching your whites.
Chlorine enters the body through breathing, through skin contact, or through swallowing. It reacts with water, producing acids. These acids are harmful, and in some cases can damage human cells. The extent of harm people experience will depend on the amount that penetrates the body and how long the exposure is. When chlorine is mixed with sweat or urine, it forms additional irritants called chloramines, substances that trigger asthma when inhaled.
Exposure to Chlorine: What to Do
When you are exposed to chlorine, move away from the contaminated area. If the exposure area is indoors, make your way outside. And if exposed outside, seek shelter inside to avoid further exposure. Take off any clothing that may have chlorine, and wash your skin thoroughly. Put plenty of water in your eyes if you’re suffering from severe eye irritation.
Generally, the effects of chlorine can be treated so the majority of people overcome these effects. In a few cases, however, they may need to get treatment in the hospital if symptoms are severe.
Note that chlorine is absorbed more quickly by children than by adults. This is why health professionals have observed that children who swim in indoor pools often are likely to develop asthma.
If you’re given the choice to swim either in an indoor or outdoor pool, choose the outdoor pool. The toxic elements in chlorine will dissipate into the air. After your swim, shower thoroughly and use a mild soap to remove excess chlorine from the skin. If your eyes are particularly sensitive, wear a good pair of goggles.
You may have heard of an illness called “chlorine allergy“. People are quick to call it an allergy when in fact a person just has a low tolerance to chlorine. Symptoms are similar to an asthma attack. A person who is having a chlorine allergy must be given quick medical attention like treating asthmatic patients.
The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety says that chlorine (or chlorine gas) can be fatal if inhaled and is corrosive to the respiratory tract. “A severe, short-term exposure may cause long-term respiratory effects (e.g., Reactive Airways Dysfunction (RADS)” and may also cause severe burning skin and eye damage.
Lifeguards, professional cleaners and competitive swimmers – beware! Excessive or prolonged exposure to chlorine is set at more than 1,000 hours.