How chloramines affected my lungs as a swimmer


Swimming SEC 2007 Claire MaustNovember is COPD Awareness Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about chloramines and the effects on your lungs.   

Briefly, chloramines are disinfection byproducts that form when organic material (sweat, oils, hair, urine, lotion, sunscreen) reacts with chlorine.  Chloramines build up in the pool and then off-gas in the air, mostly resting on the surface of the water — right where swimmers, coaches and lifeguards are breathing.  Without proper air-flow in and around a pool, especially indoor pools, the build up of chloramines can cause significant health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that chloramines cause irritation in the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. The CDC also states that these same chloramines cause corrosion to the pool equipment and ventilation systems in pools.  So, just how much damage can chloramines do to our lungs?

There have been a plethora of studies on the respiratory tract and swimmers training in indoor pools.  The New York Times summarizes many of these studies in an article written in 2009 on indoor pools and our lungs.  The more exposure a person has to chloramines (more hours of training or lifeguarding), the more inflammation and bronchial hyper-responsiveness is found in their lungs. Lifeguard lung is a serious condition caused by long-term exposure to chloramines. Along with lifeguards, elite swimmers have similar breathing and coughing issues.

As an elite swimmer, I can attest to the issue of coughing and wheezing in elite swimmers. I was a very healthy and athletic child — running, swimming and playing all the sports — with no family history of asthma or respiratory issues.  Once I started year-round competitive swimming, I began training 13 hours/week in a small indoor pool with high levels of chlorine and poor ventilation. I began to have horrible coughing fits, and my dad insisted that I give up swimming to take up tennis because swimming was harming my body. But I loved swimming so much and was becoming very fast, so despite very clear indications that the high chlorine was causing my body harm, I continued to train.

After years with chronic bronchitis, I was prescribed an inhaler and learned to deal with the wheezing and coughing during and after practices. My friends were confused because I sounded like someone who smoked three packs of cigarettes per day, yet I was an all-star athlete. Fortunately, when I got to college, the university’s pool had much better ventilation and my symptoms improved dramatically.  However, it was not until I retired from swimming that my coughing and wheezing went away.

As a coach, it is disheartening to watch my swimmers train hard and push their bodies to the max and then end up in a coughing fit — or not even finish the set due to coughing.  Additionally, when we bring the swimmers out of the water for a team meeting, it is hard to even get one sentence in without a swimmer coughing loudly.  Ask any elite swimmer or coach and they will tell you that the coughing issues, especially at indoor pools, are a real issue.

Perhaps you have a young swimmer in your family who coughs more than usual?  Do you get a runny nose or burning eyes after you go for a swim in your local pool?  These reactions are from exposure to the chloramines, and you shouldn’t have to suffer through it. Bring awareness to your pool’s aquatic director or facility maintenance director about the reactions you are having to your pool’s chloramines.  A Clear comfort system can decrease chlorine in the pool and decrease chloramines in the air, thus making the pool healthier for you.

Take a stand this month and bring awareness to your friends and your pool about how chloramines affect your lungs!

Do you swim at a pool where chloramines are an issue? Sign up for a brochure and information so you can tell them about Clear Comfort!

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Claire McDaniel

Claire is a swimming and nutrition expert who loves to educate and motivate others to healthier living. She swam competitively for 18 years, is a five time All-American, a Division I National Champion, was co-captain of Team USA at the 2007 World University Games and was named a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award. She also has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. After swimming, Claire started coaching and has coached all over the US and even in Switzerland! Her experience and expertise about both swimming and health fuel her passion for Clear Comfort’s mission – to make swimming a 100 percent healthy activity for swimmers, coaches, lifeguards and pool staff.