While some took a fancy to dancing, fitness, aerobic and all other sports, I’ve always been drawn to the waters. If not for that knack for self-preservation, I could have taken to surfing. I just love the smell of chlorine and the serenity that surrounds a pool when you’re about to dive in and race back and forth. For me, it had to be swimming or nothing. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been that kid ready to jump into those speedos and dive into the pool. My parents hoped puberty would rescue me from my madness, but I was literally in love with this beautiful sport and nothing could change that.
For a long time, I dived into the pool completely oblivious of the dangers lurking in the water. Chlorine. I actually came to like the smell and I completely ignored the risks it poses to my health and to the health of so many swimmers.
But is it really wise to ignore those risks?
WHAT THEY DON’T USUALLY TELL US ABOUT CHLORINE IN POOLS.
For all its virtues, such as the sanitation that it brings to the water, even with all the bodies and all unsanitary elements that they bring to it, chlorine also exposes us to potential harm. When chlorine comes into contact with organic materials, such as urine and sweat, it forms a highly dangerous compound called chloramine. Recent researches indicate that this chemical is responsible for a large number of health issues, quite common among swimmers and pool workers.
What kind of health hazards am I talking about? Well, they are quite a few.
1. Skin Rushes, Itches and Even Eczema and Cancers
While the less serious effects of chloramine and other dangerous compounds are skin dryness, rushes and eczema, the studies conducted by the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona indicate that excessive exposure to chlorinated water also causes a rise in blood markers that have been associated with cancer.
2. Ocular Infections
One of the most common and obvious effect of chlorine is the irritation it subjects our eyes to. Most people leave chlorinated pools red-eyed. As a matter of fact, more than one-third of the chlorinated swimming pool related defects are those related to eyes.
3. Hair Damage
The Pacific Center for Health said that chlorine may actually destroy much-needed proteins in our bodies. As a side effect, our hair can become unmanageable and color-treated hair can be completely ruined. Unfortunately, I have been an unaware test subject of this theory, and yeah, it’s pretty accurate…
4. Reproductive disorders
While practically water-proof, the skin can absorb several chemicals from the water, including some of the dangerous compounds of chlorine. These chemicals pass through to small blood vessels and tissues and have been linked to reproduction issues, as well as potential birth defects.
5. Respiratory Diseases
These are especially common when chlorinated pools are indoors. The toxic gases surrounding the swimming pool can cause severe damage to lungs, which may lead to respiratory problems or even asthma. Although these toxic gases can be harmful at any age, they pose a higher risk to seniors and children.
Asthmatic swimmers are exposed to an increased risk when swimming in closed environments, but even those who never had asthma may develop some of its symptoms.
6. Other Alleged Problems
Preliminary studies performed in European research facilities seem to indicate that chlorine and its more dangerous by-products may also cause epiglottis, cardiovascular defects, liver & kidney cancer, as well as neurological dysfunctions, among others.
However, the results of these studies are yet incipient and it may take a while to reach a final conclusion.
WHY THEN DO WE USE CHLORINE?
After finding out how dangerous chlorine is, I wondered this myself. The simple answer is that chlorine ticks all the boxes. It keeps the pool almost 100% sterile by eliminating the bacteria that is brought into the water. It also deals with the issue of algae build-up, which is pretty common in water. Its oxidation effect also ensures that organic debris doesn’t collect in the pool. Chlorine is also a very cheap chemical.
CAN WE PROTECT OURSELVES WHILE SWIMMING?
Did I scare you already? I certainly hope not, because there are simple ways to safeguard yourself.
Let’s take a look at them!
1. Swim Outdoors.
Firstly, you should always make sure that you avoid swimming in chlorinated indoor pools. This is very hazardous, as the toxic gases associated to chlorine may cause you serious respiratory problems, such as asthma. Whenever possible, swim outdoors, where most of the toxic gases are eliminated in the air.
2. Hydrate Yourself
When going to swim in chlorinated water, always make sure that you’re sufficiently hydrated. This can be done by drinking non-chlorinated, filtered water before going swimming. This way your eyes will keep their moisture and will be able to produce the tears necessary to reject bacteria and toxic chemicals.
3. Shower Before Swimming
As I already mentioned, chlorine in itself isn’t necessarily harmful, but when it reacts with ammonia from sweat it forms a pretty hazardous by-product called chloramine. Showering before swimming will remove the sweat and will prevent the formation of chloramine on your skin.
Some folks say that even the light amounts of chlorine in our daily showers may harm the skin and hair of a regular swimmer. If you’re concerned about this possibility, you can go the extra mile and install a shower filter to remove most of these chemicals.
Moreover, getting your hair wet will make it harder for chlorinated water to work its way and damage it.
4. Shower After Swimming
Don’t allow chlorine to stay on your skin for prolonged periods after you have finished swimming. Make sure you shower after swimming, to remove all traces of chlorine.
Please note that a simple shower won’t remove chlorine as efficiently as a vitamin C shower, which is believed to remove up to 99% of both chlorine and chloramine.
5. Avoid Chlorinated Pools
Yeah, I know it’s a difficult one, since chlorine remains a widely used chemical in most of the public pools.
However, when you have a choice, choose to swim in open water or in pools disinfected through other means, such as ozonators and ionizers.
6. Breathe Fresh Air
Always give yourself time to clear your airways by exposing yourself to fresh air after being exposed to chlorine. Don’t just leave the pool and confine yourself to the house. Take time to just breathe.
7. Use Moisturizing Creams
There are a lot of waterproof sun creams and lotions that can be used to prevent your skin being damaged due to overexposure to chlorine.
Topical vitamin C creams have been found to be very efficient in neutralizing chlorine.
Also, here you can find instructions on how you can make your own cream or lotion that provides a de-chlorinating effect. The ingredients are very common, so it should be an easy one to make.
8. Buy a Swim Cap to Protect Your Hair
This may not sound as much, but using a swim cap can and will protect your hair from irreparable breakage. I had this problem myself and believe me, it isn’t pretty. I’ve always been a very stubborn child and I completely hated swim caps, as they always seemed to hurt my ears. Even so, after being forced to use all sort of oils to repair my hair, I grudgingly started to use them.
So, my advice is to wear a cap that is snug enough to stay on your head, but not so tight that you get painful ears or headaches.
9. Buy Swim Goggles to Protect Your Eyes
A pair of swim goggles should be the one accessory that’s always in your backpack when you go swimming. It doesn’t even matter whether the water is chlorinated or not, as chlorine isn’t the only substance that can hurt your eyes. In fact, every time you open your eyes underwater you risk to irritate them or even to catch an infection.
As an added bonus, goggles will allow you to see clearly underwater and avoid unwanted accidents and bumps.
For detailed information on how to choose a perfect pair of goggles depending on your preferences and needs, you can download our detailed eBook on this subject from our website. Whether or not the effects of chlorine outweigh its benefits will be left to opinion. What is factual is that you and I should take care of ourselves. If no one will, we ought to protect our own health.