The Possible Effects of Chlorine in Swimming Pools on Children's Health - Step To Health

The Possible Effects of Chlorine in Swimming Pools on Children's Health

There are several effects of chlorine in swimming pools on children's health. However, it's not the chlorine itself that's the most harmful, but the improper use of it.
The Possible Effects of Chlorine in Swimming Pools on Children's Health

Last update: 19 November, 2021

It’s very healthy for children to swim and have fun in the water. However, it’s also important to take some precautions, as the effects of chlorine in swimming pools can be very negative if not prevented in time.

Chlorine is a substance used in swimming pools to kill bacteria and fungi or prevent them from appearing. The problem is that it not only affects these microorganisms, but also human beings. This happens when exposure is too long or the amounts of the substance in the water are too high.

The effects of chlorine in swimming pools on children’s health range from minor annoyances to serious problems. The best alternative is to prevent them from happening.

Chlorine and its risks

Chlorine is a chemical element found in nature and is one of the building blocks of matter. It’s made artificially from common salt through a process called electrolysis.

Chlorine is added to swimming pool water to kill germs in the water. When the chlorinated compounds come into contact with the water, they release hypochlorous acid, which is an active disinfectant.

Despite its great benefits, prolonged and frequent exposure to chlorine can lead to health problems. This is particularly true for infants and children up to the age of 3. At this young age, respiratory functions are still developing and tend to react abnormally to irritants.

Health problems from the effects of chlorine in swimming pools

The health effects of chlorine in swimming pools on children can be many. The most serious are those that affect the respiratory system. In general, these are various kinds of irritants.

Let’s take a closer look.

Eye irritations or conjunctivitis

Many times, children come out of the pool with red eyes. It’s believed that this is one of the effects of chlorine in swimming pools. However, the truth is that it’s a consequence of the lack of this element. A pool that irritates the eyes is a badly disinfected pool.

Eye irritations and conjunctivitis are usually caused by the presence of sweat, saliva, urine, faeces and traces of cosmetic products. All these elements can be present in the water, even if it looks clean.

Conjuntivitis en niño que estuvo en la piscina.
When conjunctivitis appears in a child who has been in a swimming pool, poor disinfection of the pool is usually the culprit. 

Skin problems

Another possible effect of chlorine in swimming pools is dry skin or irritant dermatitis. This is due to the fact that the pH of this substance is higher than that of the skin.

As a result, irritation occurs. This causes itching and flaking.

Respiratory problems

Another possible effect of chlorine in swimming pools is the generation of respiratory problems. Chlorine contains a concentrated substance called trichloramine.

This substance is toxic and is easily inhaled. It not only reaches the upper respiratory tract, but also deep into the lungs.

As a result, it can irritate and make children more prone to other respiratory problems.

Chlorine poisoning

A healthy pool should have no odor. If there is a very strong chlorine smell, it means that the water is full of impurities. That strong smell is produced when the chlorine reacts – like when it comes into contact with sweat or feces.

If a child swallows too much chlorinated water, there’s a risk of poisoning. Symptoms include coughing, vomiting, upset stomach, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the eyes, throat, ears, and nose.

Allergic sensitization

A study conducted by Dr. Alfred Bernard of the Catholic University of Leuven found that there’s a link between the chlorine in swimming pools and the occurrence of allergic diseases. In particular, this occurs in the case of asthma.

This is evident in babies who frequently bath in pools before the age of two and in children who are prone to allergies. Research indicates that for every 100 hours of exposure to a chlorinated pool, the risk of asthma increases by up to 60%.

It has also been established that people who swam in pools before the age of two are more susceptible to developing allergies, even in adulthood.

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Interactions with other substances

One of the aspects that must be taken into account is what is known as activated chlorine. This generic name is given to the by-products that arise as a reaction of combining chlorine with other substances. This occurs frequently in swimming pools.

For example, when chlorine is combined with sunscreen creams, lotions or perfumes, it undergoes changes that can damage the skin’s protective oil mantle. The effect is increased dryness.

Also, as we’ve already mentioned, when chlorine comes into contact with organic substances (sweat, urine) it generates chloramines. These make the smell of chlorine more intense, but also affect the appearance of allergic health problems.

On the other hand, when salivary proteins come into contact with water in which there are chloramines, they decompose in an accelerated manner. The consequence of this is the formation of brown tartar on the teeth.

Niña en piscina con cloro.
It’s important for children to wear certain eye protection when using public pools.

Tips to minimize the effects of chlorine

The following are some tips that can limit the health effects of chlorine in swimming pools on children:

  • Avoid pools that have a strong chlorine odor.
  • Do not enter pools that don’t require a shower before and after use.
  • After showering, when leaving the pool, it’s advisable to apply moisturizing cream on the child.
  • It’s very important to teach your child not to spit or pee in the pool.
  • It’s advisable that the child goes to the bathroom before entering the pool.
  • Special diapers that absorb urine in the water should be used and required for babies.
  • It’s best to wear goggles and earplugs when using a pool.
  • The child should learn not to put pool water in his or her mouth, much less swallow it.
  • If the child comes out with red eyes, the best thing to do is to rinse them with saline solution and apply cold compresses for a couple of minutes.
  • Outdoor pools are better than indoor pools.

There are alternatives to chlorine

There are now pools that are not sanitized with chlorine. Some use water ionisers, which use electrolysis. In this case, the electricity kills the germs.

There are also pools that use a bromine or ultraviolet disinfection system. This sterilization system is very powerful and reliable. Both these and the previous ones are good alternatives to avoid the effects of chlorine in swimming pools on children’s health.

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  • Bernard A. Chlorination products: emerging links with allergic diseases. Curr Med Chem. 2007;14(16):1771-82. doi: 10.2174/092986707781058940. PMID: 17627515.
  • De la Vega Pazitková, T., Pérez Martínez, V. T., & Bezos Martínez, L. (2010). Factores de riesgo de asma bronquial en niños y su relación con la severidad de las manifestaciones clínicas. Revista Cubana de Medicina General Integral, 26(2), 0-0.
  • Drobnic, F. (2009). Impacto sobre la salud de los compuestos utilizados en el tratamiento del agua en las piscinas. Estado de la cuestión. Apunts. Medicina de l’Esport, 44(161), 42-47.