Do your eyes get red from swimming in a pool? Develop a cough, wheezing or a runny nose? These symptoms often seem to be more problematic when the smell of chlorine is heavy in the air, so it makes perfect sense to conclude that chlorine is causing symptoms. In fact, your parents may have told you this when you were little, and you may have heard countless others tell their own kids this over the years. However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Water Quality and Healthy Council and the National Swimming Pool Foundation, chlorine is not actually to blame at all. The real cause may be urine in the swimming pool.
Why Chlorine is Used to Clean Pools
Chlorine is a strong, relatively affordable disinfectant. It is commonly used to keep pool water sanitary. Pool water can get filthy and unsafe to swim in without a disinfectant. Germs, animals and rain runoff can bring bacteria and other pathogens into the pool. Using chemicals to disinfect the water is common and generally safe for most people. In fact, it is far safer to swim in treated water than in untreated water.
Allergies to Chlorine
Some people actually do have an allergy to chlorine or to other chemicals that are used to clean a pool. Red eyes is a sign of an allergic response, as well as coughing, wheezing and a runny nose. For most people, red eyes in the swimming pool may be related to urine in the pool.
When Chlorine Mixes With Urine
For most people, chlorine alone will not cause red eyes. Likewise, urine alone also will not cause these symptoms. However, when urine mixes with chlorine, a new chemical is formed. In fact, when dirt, sweat or urine are exposed to chlorine, the nitrogen-based compounds known as urea and uric acid will interact with the chlorine to create an irritant. Basically, this means that if your eyes turn red in the pool, there is a strong chance that there is pee in the pool. If not, there is at least a lot of sweat and dirt in the pool.
What the Chlorine Smell Means
The smell that many people think is chlorine is actually the smell of chlorine interacting with nitrogen-based compounds found in urine, sweat and dirt. The smell indicates a chemical reaction between these substances is occurring, and if the smell is very strong, it means that there may be a lot of pee in the pool.
If your eyes have turned red in the swimming pool, have no fear. Most people's eyes will return to normal within a few hours after leaving the water. You may be able to speed up the process by rinsing your eyes with water. After you have learned the true reason for eyes turning red and for other common symptoms developing while swimming, you may be more inclined to rinse your eyes as well as your entire body very quickly after exiting the pool.