Swimmers with red, irritated eyes coming out of the pool usually chalk it up to chlorine.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's actually chlorine mixed with urine, sweat, fecal matter and dirt hurting your eyes -- not the chlorine alone. The combination creates irritants called "chloramines." Aside from bothering eyes, chloramines can also lead to coughing or wheezing, and aggravate swimmers' asthma.
"When we go swimming and we complain that our eyes are red, it's because swimmers have peed in the water," says Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC's healthy swimming program. "The nitrogen in the urine combines with the chlorine and it forms what's known as chloramine and it's actually chloramine that causes the red eyes. It's not the chlorine itself. It's chlorine mixed with poop and sweat and a lot of other things we bring into the water with us."
In fact, Hlavsa says, the stronger the chlorine smell at a pool, the more filled with pee it is. Healthy pools don't smell like chemicals.
Anyone thinking chlorine's job is to clean their personal pee from a swimming pool, should know that chlorine can't even begin to deal with your pee. Its plate is full with E. coli and other germs. Once people start adding pee, poop, sweat, and dirt to the equation, it starts to try to tackle those instead, leaving it with little energy for anything else, says Hlavsa.
This isn't news to experts like Hlavsa. "I just don't think this is on people's radars," she says. "People think waterborne disease is something that happens outside the United States. But really, we have plenty of them here."
If you own your own pool, the CDC urges that you test the water. "Buy a pool tester," says Hlavsa. "You can get them at big box stores, pool supply stores and hardware stores. You're looking at both the chlorine level and the pH. The chlorine level you're looking for is 1 to 3 ppm. The pH should be between 7.2 to 7.8. The pH is important because it determines how effective that chlorine is."
And, as far as chlorine is concerned, how's this for a not-so-fun fact? Cryptosporidium, a germ that causes diarrhea, can live in chemical-treated water for ten days, says Hlavsa.
So, now that we know all this. What do we do? Stay out of pools forever?
"We don't' want to scare people away from swimming," says Hlavsa. "It's just about doing it in a healthier and safer way. We go biking and we wear helmets. We go in the car and we put our seatbelts on. We're just saying, this is a healthier way to swim."
The more of us who follow these four helpful tips from CDC, the more we'll all enjoy a day at the pool:
Shower before getting into the water.
Take a solid minute to wash dirt and germs off. Also, rinse off your body again when you leave the water.
Got diarrhea or other bowel issues? Stay out of the water.
Is this asking so much?
Don't pee or poop in the water!
We've heard this this since we were kids. If you have kids, nag them too. Also, keep in mind, a toddler's swim diapers aren't leak proof.
Don't swallow the water.
Don't even put it in your mouth. Are you even tempted to anymore?
As yucky as this info is is, pools and waterparks can still be a fun part of everyone's summer if they follow the CDC's suggestions.