Burning Eyes From a Swimming Pool?

Everybody hates using a swimming pool that stings the eyes and throat. Kids who swim underwater without goggles can get a serious case of burning eyes that can lead to tears. There are ways to make sure this doesn’t happen both by changing the way people behave in the pool and- if it is your pool with the problem- by keeping on top of pool maintenance.

Red, irritated, burning eyes happen most commonly if you swim for a long time in a pool that uses chlorine as a sanitizer but it is not usually caused by chlorine. It is caused by chemicals called chloramines. These are produced when chlorine reacts with ammonia in the water and when proper steps are not taken to maintain the pool well. Bloodshot eyes can also be caused by or made worse by other things like strong sunlight, dry dusty winds, pollen, allergies or by microbial infections.

Chloramines

Chlorine plus ammonia equals chloramines. Chloramines cause that burning eye and throat feeling. The odor can also cause asthma symptoms in poorly ventilated indoor pools. If you or your children suffer eye problems in a public pool, complain! State and city health authorities take these issues seriously.

The ammonia comes from sweat and urine that pool users contribute to the pool. One way of reducing the buildup of chloramines in the pool is to make people shower before they enter the pool. You should also warn children that urinating in the pool is not good for anyone.

How to Protect Your Eyes when using a Pool

Protect Eyes against Sun

Sun protection is a good idea at all times. Sun ages the skin. There is a scary rate of skin cancer in the US (one in five people will suffer skin cancer sometime in their life). Excessive sunlight is the major cause of cataracts. Sunglasses with a strong UV protection factor are recommended. The US government recommends sun protection creams even in the winter! Wide brimmed hats, staying in the shade and covering up are the best options for sun protection.

Goggles

Goggles protect the eyes against irritants like chloramines in the water. They can also protect against sun if they are colored. Check the packaging!

Also:

  • Avoid make up when swimming, as this can wash into the eyes.
  • Remove contact lenses, if you use them. Microorganisms in the pool can grow in soft contacts,
  • ‘Artificial Tears’ is a government recommended brand of eye drops for irritated eyes.

Pink Eye caused by Infections

Pink eye caused by infections (from bacteria or viruses) is called conjunctivitis

In children, especially, these infections tend to spread easily by contact. Pink eye is dangerous in very young babies and should be reported to a doctor immediately. It can cause discomfort for up to a week in older children and adults, as the infection runs its course.

If you are Maintaining Your Own Pool and Using Chlorine as a Sanitizer

Well balanced water in a swimming pool won’t cause burning eyes even if you use chlorine. There are links to pages at the foot of this article that have details on how to balance pool chemicals. An important part of pool maintenance is to routinely monitor chloramines and treat the water with chlorine as necessary. It may sound to be against common sense to add more chlorine to get rid of the irritating vapors in a pool but the extra chlorine breaks down the chloramines.

Microbes in the water- as a result of low levels of sanitizer- can cause skin conditions as well as ear, throat and eye problems. Water filters also need continuous monitoring and backwashing or cleaning. Some people avoid using chlorine altogether and swap to biguanides or bromine as a sanitizer but these systems need as much routine maintenance to be safe.

After a Chlorine Shock

If you use a chlorine ‘shock’ to tackle algae or chloramines, always make sure the free chlorine levels have fallen below 4mg/L before swimming. Very high levels of chlorine can cause skin irritation and affect the eyes. This is the one situation when chlorine will cause ‘pool eye’ in itself.

If you want to look at swimming issues in more detail you could try the Pool Algae guide or Pool Chemicals guide.


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