How to Avoid Germs & Infections in the Swimming Pool

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

It’s hot…the middle of summer…the pool beckons. But if the water has a strong chemical smell, or if your eyes sting when you go in, or your nose runs, there’s a reason. It may not be what you think it is…

Whether it’s a backyard pool or the city pool, it’s smart to know just what might be lurking beneath the surface and why.

Risky Pool Water

A strong smell isn’t just chlorine. It’s very likely a combination of the chlorine mixing with pee, poop, sweat, and dirt from swimmers’ bodies, and all those contaminants can weaken the strength of germ-killing chemicals. A pool without a strong chemical smell is a healthier pool.

Outbreaks of diarrhea have occurred after swimming in properly treated pools because someone who is sick has deposited diarrhea-causing germs in the water. Such germs can survive pool chemicals for several days.

Germs in the water can also cause skin, eye, ear, and lung infections.

Protect Yourself from Germs in the Pool

Here’s how to protect yourself and family members headed for the pool:

  • Shower before jumping in.
  • Stay out if you have diarrhea.
  • Teach kids to use the restroom, not the pool, if they have to pee (or poop). Take them for a restroom break prior to jumping in and fairly often after that.
  • Check diapers often. Change them in a restroom, not poolside. Swim diapers and swim pants can hold in solid poop for a few minutes, but they aren’t leak proof. They don’t stop germs or loose mess from seeping into the water.
  • Don’t swallow the water. Teach kids not to swallow it or grab mouthfuls to spit at each other.
  • For swimmers, wear water-tight goggles to protect your eyes. Germs may be present in the water that could possibly cause eye infections. Such infections are rare, but do happen.
  • If you wear contacts, take them off before swimming, and use prescription goggles. If you need to wear your contacts, use regular goggles.
  • Shower off after the pool. Make sure you rinse your eyes. A good shower after swimming in a chlorinated pool will wash away the assorted pool contaminants, as well as chlorine. Some individuals hypersensitive to the chlorine can develop an irritant dermatitis with itchy, red skin or hives (itchy bumps). Chlorine is also drying to the skin and may irritate existing dermatitis. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath after swimming in chlorinated pools can also be helpful.


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