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Swimming Pools: Is Chlorine Making You See Red?

Summer is a time for fun outdoor activities and swimming, but the outcome can leave you with blurry, red eyes. Red eyes occur when blood vessels on the surface of the eye become enlarged and dilated. Increased contact with allergens, irritants, and chemicals like chlorine can cause your eyes to become red and irritated. Understanding some basics—like how swimming pool water influences your eye health—could prevent you from getting red eyes.

Chlorine Pools versus Saltwater Pools

Pool sanitation systems work to decrease the level of microorganisms in pools to maintain a healthy and hygienic environment. Chlorine pool systems use chlorine to sanitize water by eliminating contaminants that cause recreational water illnesses, says the CDC. Harmful microorganisms are introduced into swimming pools by swimmers through sweat, urine, saliva, and fecal matter. Chlorine destroys these contaminants through oxidation, creating chemical compounds called chloramines. Chloramines cause red eyes and skin irritation in swimmers.

Alternatively, saltwater pool systems are more natural and safer for skin, hair, and eyes. These pools use an automatic sanitizer system to electrolyze pool salt and convert the salt’s chloride into chlorine. This chlorine then dissolves in the pool water and sanitizes like traditional chlorine without the chloramines.

Know the pH Level

Regardless of the pool sanitation system, unbalanced pH will cause red eyes as well as skin and eye irritation. The pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of the pool water at any one time. Swimming pool pH levels should be neutral (7 on the pH scale). Proper pH must be maintained at 7.0 – 7.8 for pool chemicals to work effectively and reduce skin and eye irritation. Pool water pH above or below this range can cause red eyes and irritated skin. Test or ask pool maintenance staff to verify proper pH levels prior to swimming.

Protect your Eyes

If you are prone to developing red eyes in the swimming pool, swim goggles can help. Goggles not only help you see better underwater but can also protect your eyes from pool chemicals, organic contaminants, and harmful microorganisms. Additionally, goggles can protect against blunt force trauma from water hitting or spraying into your eyes. Swimmers have many options for eye protection and improved eyesight while swimming. Talk to your eye doctor about which goggles are the best for you.

Remove Contact Lenses

Most eyewear is not created for water wear, especially contact lenses. When swimming, pool water can contain harmful microorganisms and chemicals that can enter your eyes and become trapped between your eye and the contact, causing dangerous eye health issues like chemical conjunctivitis, pseudomonas aeruginosa, and acanthamoeba keratitis.

Soothe Irritated Eyes

If you do get a little water in your eyes while swimming, saline eye drops can help to refresh and hydrate red and irritated eyes. If you continue to have red, irritated eyes after each swimming session or the redness remains after a day or two, contact your eye care professional. There may be a serious underlying condition that requires medical attention.