The relationship between swimming pools, asthma, and allergic rhinitis

Chlorine and asthma

The relationship between swimming pools, asthma, and allergic rhinitis

Swimming is one of the best activities to improve physical fitness. But studies show that doing it in chlorine pools can increase the risk of asthma, eczema, respiratory allergies, and allergic rhinitis, particularly in children.

One study found that for children who were already susceptible to allergies, the risk of hay fever was up to 7 times higher if they swam in chlorinated pools for more than 100 hours. The risk of allergic rhinitis was up to 3.5 times higher for children who spent more than 1,000 hours in chlorinated water, compared to children who did not.

The study showed the more time spent in chlorinated water, the more likely the children were to develop allergies. In comparison, children who swam in pools that were copper-silver sanitised did not show an increased risk for allergies.


The possible reason for these trends is related to the formation of toxic, chlorine-based chemicals that chlorinated pools produce. People are not usually allergic to chlorine, but rather they can be sensitive to the chemical. But chlorine can contribute to allergic reactions by irritating the respiratory tract and producing byproducts that aggravate symptoms.

These chemicals include nitrogen trichloride, which forms when chlorine reacts with urea from urine in pools. It also includes other disinfectant byproducts which form as chlorine reacts with organic matter like skin and hair. One toxicologist at the Catholic University of Louvain claimed that the impact of these chemicals on the respiratory health of children and adolescents is more than 5 times worse than those associated with second-hand smoking.

These chemicals hover at the water’s surface, right where you breathe while swimming. This increases the risk of asthma and respiratory issues in swimmers. Swimming pool workers have also shown an increase in susceptibility to asthma from breathing in these chemicals around the pool. So what can be done about this? Swimming is a great form of exercise, particularly for people who cannot do high impact exercises. But that shouldn’t mean swimmers have to endure increased risk to their health to do what they enjoy.

What else can you do?

There are alternatives to the chlorine pools that allow you to exercise without increasing the risk. Disinfectant methods that don’t involve chlorine are becoming more popular, such as copper-silver ionisation. Also, UV filtration and the use of ozone are two methods of killing bacteria in water. But, they can not kill bacteria that enter the pool as new bathers arrive. A small amount of chlorine is used with both these methods but the concentration is lower than traditional swimming pools. This may be a healthier alternative to purely chlorine disinfected pools.

If you want to avoid chlorine-based fumes altogether, the riskier alternative of swimming in natural bodies of water may be an exhilarating alternative. Remember these activities can be dangerous, particularly in the sea. They may not be suitable for children and you should always make sure you are fully capable of swimming in these areas before you do.

The findings from studies which investigate the relationship between allergies and swimming pools highlight a need for further research into how exactly these chemicals sensitise children and adults alike.

If you are experiencing allergy symptoms like asthma and rhinitis, book an appointment with one of our specialist consultants today. They will help you determine the cause and solutions to your symptoms to increase your quality of life.

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