Chlorine vapors and byproducts may affect the lungs of competitive swimmers: Study

Indoor pools exposing swimmers to chlorine may be tied to lung damage similar to that seen in people with mild asthma, according to a study cited in a Reuters article.

The French/Canadian study involved 23 elite swimmers, 10 mild asthmatics and 10 healthy, non-allergic people, who had to perform breathing tests and have their lung tissue tested. Researchers took the samples during the off-season.

The researchers found that the swimmers’ lung tissue samples had almost six times as many immune cells associated with asthma and allergies, compared to the lung tissue of healthy participants.

It was a similar amount to the lung tissue in mild asthmatics.

Unlike the healthy participants, both swimmers and asthmatics groups had evidence of scar tissue in the lungs.

The results do not mean that elite swimmers will develop asthma later, as inflamed lung tissue was not associated with asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing.

However, more research may need to be done about the effect of chlorine in water and air as well as the chlorine byproducts that are formed when chlorine reacts with human sweat, urine and hair, for example.

Some of these byproducts may be hazardous to human health escape into the air just above the waterline, where swimmers breathe them in, the researchers say.

The chemical exposure may also make swimmers more sensitized to allergens like pet dander, pollen and dust. More than half of competitive swimmers are sensitive to these allergens, the researchers say.

Still, the benefits of physical exercise may still outweigh any concerns.

The researchers’ tips for reducing chemical exposure in pools include:

  • Avoid pools with a strong chlorine smell in the air. This is a sign that pool chemicals are badly managed
  • Try saltwater pools (although they also use chlorine)
  • Practice good hygiene: Always take a shower before entering a pool; never use it as a urinal

Source: Reuters Health in Chicago Tribune

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