On a hot summer day, there are few things more relieving than hopping into a pool. Many people like to enjoy the cooling reprieve of a summer swim, and that’s not really a bad thing. However, if a lot of people are sharing the same pool, that can create issues. The more people there are in a pool, the higher the chance of various hazards. By taking part in this pastime, you may be putting yourself at risk for getting sick.
Unfortunately, a pool doesn’t have to have a film of algae or an unnatural green color to be dirty. Even a crystal-clear pool can make you sick. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
Since the germs and bacteria in your pool can make you sick, you have to clean it, right? That’s why so many people put so many chemicals in their pools — to get that clean, clear look.
While you can get this result, chemicals can lead to other complications. One study detected a dangerous chlorine byproduct, haloacetic acid (HAA), in the urine of swimmers 30 minutes after they were in a pool. HAAs are linked to cancer and birth defects. Luckily, you can help prevent contamination by not swallowing pool water, which accounts for around 90 percent of HAA in the urine.
One study detected a dangerous chlorine byproduct, haloacetic acid (HAA), in the urine of swimmers 30 minutes after they were in a pool.
Ultimately, chlorine itself is generally pretty safe for people to be around. It’s when it combines with other chemicals that there’s a cause for concern. Chemicals in shampoos, body lotions, or human waste can create dangerous compounds with chlorine that can irritate your eyes and skin. This irritation is less likely to occur at outdoor pools, since the compounds will often get blown away. For indoor pools, if you can smell the pool, you’re really smelling these compounds. That — and the fact that these compounds can make you sick — is why it’s important for indoor pools to be well ventilated.
OK, we’ve danced around this topic enough. Nearly the entire first paragraph can be seen as a pun about it. People pee in the pool. You can pretend they don’t (or that you haven’t), but the fact is, many people have admitted to peeing in the pool at least once. And those are just the ones who’ve admitted to it. One study found between eight and 20 gallons of human urine is in the average public pool. The CDC even found that public pools contain bacteria found in fecal matter. This presents multiple health risks.
One study found between eight and 20 gallons of human urine is in the average public pool.
For one, swimmers could catch waterborne diseases as result of bacteria from human waste contamination in the pool. Potential threats include illnesses like cryptosporidiosis and E. coli infections, which can make you very sick. There’s also a risk of pinkeye due to the waste matter that’s potentially present in the water.
You don’t just have to worry about these illnesses, though. Chemicals in human waste, specifically those in urine, don’t mix well with chemicals in pool water. In high enough concentrations, the resulting compounds can cause respiratory issues and irritate your eyes and skin.
Germs and Diseases
Despite the minor risks associated with chlorine and other chemicals, it’s still suggested that you use them to clean your pool. Why? Because without them, you’ve essentially just got a hole in the ground with still water. Your little piece of paradise could become a breeding ground for bacteria and other germs that can cause recreational water illnesses (RWI).
You can become infected by RWIs taking in water through your skin, ears, nose, or mouth, or by breathing in the mist from contaminated water. A few common infections and RWIs you can get from swimming are swimmer’s ear, shigellosis, lice, hepatitis A, and legionnaires’ disease. Fungal infections, like athlete’s foot or ringworm, are also common ailments among swimmers.
A few common infections and RWIs you can get from swimming are swimmer’s ear, shigellosis, lice, hepatitis A, and legionnaires’ disease.
Unfortunately, there’s not too much you can do to fully prevent an infection if you’re in the water. Before getting in the water, you can check to make sure the pool has been cleaned and inspected recently and that it has the correct pH and chlorine levels. To minimize your risk for getting RWIs, cover any open wounds you have with a waterproof band aid before getting in pools and avoid swallowing the pool water. Also, dry yourself with a towel thoroughly after you’re done swimming and shower with soap and water. This can clean bacteria and chemicals off your skin.
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Despite the sanitation concerns, you should still consider going for a swim. We think the positives of a healthy swim certainly outweigh the negatives. For example, it’s a fantastic full body, low-impact exercise. Just keep in mind to wash off thoroughly after you get out, don’t swallow the water, and please, please, please — don’t pee in the pool!