Allergic Reactions to Swimming Pool Chemicals

Updated February 21, 2017

Most swimming pools have a high chlorine concentration, which helps keep pools clean and germfree. However, many people are allergic to chlorine, and the chemical can cause skin irritations and even hay fever symptoms and asthma. In fact, even people who are not allergic can develop sensitivities to pool chemicals over time with regular exposure.

Chemical Facts

The most common swimming pool chemical, chlorine, is a powerful oxidant, typically used to bleach, clean and disinfect. When chlorine comes into contact with organic compounds in the pool, like sweat or urine, a reaction takes place, producing chlorine derivatives including nitrogen trichloride and chloroform. These chemical derivatives have been linked directly to asthma and allergy symptoms in swimmers.


Studies have shown chlorine and chlorine derivatives cause asthma symptoms in swimmers exposed semi-regularly to the common pool chemical. Dr. K. Thickett of the Occupational Lung Diseases Unit at the Birmingham Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, England presented the findings in 2001 at a European Respiratory Society meeting in Berlin. The studies were conducted after it was found that over a quarter of the swimmers on the 2000 U.S. Olympic swim team had asthma. In the same year, Belgian scientist Dr. Sylviane Carbonelle studied the impact of chlorine, and found young children regularly exposed to the chemical in pools could suffer lung damage similar to what would be seen by a heavy smoker. However, in response to the studies, Malcolm Green, the president of the British Lung Foundation cautioned there may be other factors involved.


Symptoms of chemical allergies include itchy, irritated skin, rash, hay fever symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat and itchy eyes, as well as breathing difficulties and asthma.


To soothe irritated skin from a chlorine allergic reaction, use aloe-based creams and lotions to temporarily relieve symptoms. Laboured breathing or asthma symptoms should be examined by a doctor, and a break from the pool would be advised.


There are natural alternatives to common swimming pool chemicals, which can be just as effective to keep pools clean and germfree. Many cities around the world have adopted natural alternatives in public pools to protect citizens from potential harm. Natural alternatives include converting pools to salt water, a natural cleaning agent. Also, ionisation, oxidation and even sonic waves can be used to kill bacteria or algae, and purifying plants can be kept in the pool to keep the waters clean. These remedies may require a chlorine supplement for total effectiveness, but far less of the chemical would be required than a typical pool.

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About the Author

Robyn Murray is a journalist based in Omaha, Neb. She has reported for national and international media including National Public Radio, Public Radio International and Business Day in Johannesburg. Murray holds a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.