FAQ

Chlorine, Skin and Hair
Why do they put chemical in the pool?
to keep the water clean, safe, and swimmable. Chlorine (slightly different from the kind found in laundry bleach) is one of the most effective chemicals found so far to sanitize water. It helps to kill the bacteria and algae, and may be introduced as a gas, liquid, or powder. Chlorine also “consumes” substances that would otherwise cloud the water: perspiration (did you realize that you sweat when you swim?), suntan and other lotions, deodorants, and so on. So it keeps the water clear, too. Chemicals also serve to balance the pH level. If the water becomes either too alkaline or too acidic, it may cause eye, ear, and skin irritation, and it promotes the growth of bacteria. Sodium bicarbonate (soda ash) is added to raise pH level. Muriatic acid is used to lower pH
Does chlorine penetrate the skin?
No, but you should at least rinse, and preferably wash it off with soap, after each swim.
Why is it important to get rid of all the chlorine on my skin?
Because chlorine and salt water remove the oils that keep your natural moisture in. Paradoxically, prolonged immersion in water of any kind can actually dry your skin. So use a moisturizing soap when you shower off after a swim. Then, while your skin is still slightly damp, apply a moisturizing lotion; those containing urea or lactic acid are best. People with dry or “delicate” skin or eczema must be extra careful, because chlorine will worsen their condition, so it’s especially important to apply a moisturizer if you fall into this category.

Can I still get sunburned when I’m in the water?
Yes; few people realize that the sun’s rays penetrate water. So if you’re swimming outdoors, use a sunscreen or sunblock. For best results, apply it at least one hour before going outdoors, and reapply after you’ve come out of the water. Use an appropriate SPF. The higher the
number, the greater the protection.
Are there any special steps I should take to protect my hair?
Water, especially if it’s chlorinated or salty, dries out hair just as it dries out your skin. After a swim, at least rinse out your hair to remove as much of the chlorine and other chemicals (or salt) as possible. Better still, wash it with a mild shampoo for dry or damaged hair. Lather only once; then apply creme rinse or conditioner to replenish the oils and to help untangle the hair. If you find your hair feeling dry, sticky, or dull, consider changing shampoos. Some are able to remove certain chemical deposits that others don’t. There are specially formulated shampoos and conditioners for those who swim in chlorinated water. To minimize the exposure to chemicals in the first place, and to keep hair from tangling more than it has to, wear a bathing cap—even if you have short hair. Though none are completely leakproof, caps do offer some protection. If you don’t wear a cap, your hair is completely exposed to the pool chemicals, and it is whipped around in the water the way your clothes are in a washing machine. I’ve discovered that it’s also a good idea to wear a Lycra cap under a latex or silicone one. The Lycra isn’t waterproof, but it’s a smooth, absorbent lining that acts as a buffer between my hair and my outer cap, which sometimes pulls and tangles the hair.
Should I cut my hair if I’m swimming often?
Short hair does make sense for swimming. And since you’ll be in the pool, and therefore shampooing, at least three times a week, choose a style—whether long or short or medium length—that doesn’t need fussing to look good. Styles that you can just wash and let dry naturally are ideal. Keep blow-drying and electric curlers to a minimum, since they’re time-consuming, space-consuming, and damaging to the hair. To cut down on shampooing and drying, try to schedule your swims on the days you’d normally wash your hair anyway (or vice versa).
Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat
My eyes get really bloodshot and my throat gets scratchy when I swim. Am I allergic to the chlorine?
It’s very rare to be “allergic” to chlorine in the usual sense, but after repeated exposures, many people experience an “irritant reaction” which looks and feels like an allergic reaction with swelling, itching and sneezing, sniffling, and red eyes. Sometimes a scratchy throat and coughing are caused by free chlorine particles in the air, especially in poorly ventilated indoor pools.

Why do I see halos around lights after I’ve been swimming?
When your eyes are exposed to chemically treated and/or hypotonic water (containing less salt than the cornea), the cornea may swell up. This edema causes the light rays to bend as they pass through, which results in the halos around lights that sometimes plague swimmers. The eyes may also turn red, tear, and become overly sensitive to light and cigarette smoke. A nap, rinsing the eyes, and time, will alleviate this condition; goggles will prevent it.
What causes the sensation of having something in my eye after I’ve been swimming?
That’s another, but related, story. Exposure to chlorine can cause superficial punctate keratitis—the outer cells of the cornea actually fall off, leaving a nerve exposed and giving you the feeling that you have something in your eye. It takes a day or two for this condition to heal— that’s how long it takes your body to replace the lost cells. Again, wearing goggles is the best way to prevent this condition.
Can I get an eye infection from swimming?
Not if you’re swimming in a pool that’s adequately chlorinated. The current standard of at least 2.0 parts per million of free available chlorine is sufficient to kill all bacteria and most viruses. Fresh-water swimming holes such as quarries and lakes, as well as underchlorinated pools, can harbor harmful bacteria and viruses, however. You can protect yourself from them by wearing goggles—but not someone else’s goggles, since the infection may spread this way. Consult a physician if you have any eye condition that persists.
Can I wear my contact lenses when I swim?
Yes, but most recent experiments by the Centers for Disease Control show soft contact lens wearers face certain risks. Although contact lenses can protect your eyes from chlorine, wearing soft lenses while swimming is associated with eye infections; in addition, you run a 4–15 percent chance of losing the lenses. Other studies recommend you use goggles whether or not you wear contact lenses to protect your eyes from microorganisms and bacteria normally found in pools and natural bodies of water. And if you do wear contacts during swimming, you should remove them and disinfect them after twenty to thirty minutes to minimize the risk of problems If you wear contacts, you might want to discuss with your optometrist the possibility of having prescription goggles made. You can also purchase goggles “ready made” in a variety of diopter powers.
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I seem to get a lot of water in my ears. Is this harmful? What’s “swimmer’s ear”?
Getting water in your ears is annoying and can lead to “swimmer’s ear.” When you swim, water sometimes travels up the Eustachian tube, the connecting tube that stretches from behind the nose to behind the eardrum. If you have an infection in your nasal passages, therefore, the water can transfer the inflammation to your middle ear; this is known as “swimmer’s ear.” This problem is pretty unusual, though, and it may occur in scuba divers because of the changes in pressure that they’re subjected to. And it’s more common in children than in adults, because adults have a little kink in the Eustachian tube that tends to catch the water. If you do develop a persistent pain in your ear, see a doctor; you may have developed a middle-ear infection that requires professional attention.
How can I prevent water from getting in my ears? Once it’s in, how can I get it out?
Wearing earplugs made of rubber, plastic, or wax may protect your ears. The main concern with these is that, if water does get trapped behind the plug, it could be worse than having water flowing in and out of your outer ear. A bathing cap pulled over your ears may be sufficient protection. Another method is to use lamb’s wool. Wrap a small wad of lamb’s wool (sold in foot-care departments) around your index finger; coat it with a little petroleum jelly and insert it into the ear canal. This takes a bit of practice, so experiment a few times until you find just the right amount and depth. I apply it every time I swim and haven’t had “swimmer’s ear” since I have used it. It helps to keep water out and forms just enough of a soft, absorbent
barrier to make sure that ear problems stay away. To get water out of your ears, dry them with a hair dryer or gently use cotton swabs. Also, there are fast-drying, antibacterial eardrops available, made especially to prevent “swimmer’s ear.”
Do swimmers get more colds than other people?
Swimming, of itself, doesn’t increase your chances of upper respiratory infections. Not dressing sensibly, however, can cause problems. In cold weather, it’s just not smart to walk outside without a hat or scarf after swimming, since 30 to 40 percent of your body heat escapes from your head.
Sometimes I feel as though I can’t catch my breath. What’s happening?
It may be a result of breathing too fast too deeply. This is called hyperventilating, or perhaps you’re not giving yourself enough rest.
Can I swim with a cold?
if you have a fever, in which case you should absolutely stay away from the pool. If you have a bad cough you shouldn’t swim either—not only for your own sake, but to avoid spreading disease. And don’t fool around with bad respiratory problems;
see a doctor if you’re really sick.
I have a sinus condition—should I wear nose clips?
In case of a full-blown sinusitis, when there’s pain below the eyes, especially when you press on the area, tremendous pressure in the sinus cavity, and a foul taste in the mouth, you shouldn’t go in the water; consult a physician. However, nose clips are a matter of personal preference. Some people are never bothered by water getting up their noses, while others seem to get an inordinate amount of it. If you’re one of those people, it’s reasonable to consider using nose clips. But even then they shouldn’t be used routinely—they can be annoying and uncomfortable in themselves, and they become one more thing that you have to concern yourself with. In any event, there are several styles, shapes, and sizes available to fit most noses. But nose clips should still be worn only by those who are prone to sinus infection.
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