Do Swimming Pools Cause Asthma?

Health Professional

When I go on vacation with my kids I can almost guarantee we'll end up in a swimming pool pretty much every day.    Relaxing near pools in this way tends to be the highlight of our vacations (along with Mickey Mouse).

Of course I am also aware that having such fun comes with the risk of getting getting red and itchy eyes, stuffy noses, and wheezes.  Surely I do find that I MUST take my rescue inhaler with me when I spend time around pools because I generally find that I need to use it.

The thing about pools is that studies show chlorine is an effective disinfectant.  Yet the studies also show  chlorine  causes inflammation of the respiratory tract, and does have an impact on allergies and asthma.

Serena Gordon, at, "Chlorine in Pools Raises Kid's Asthma, Allergy Risk," (Sept. 14, 2009), reported on a study of 847 Bellgian teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18.  The results were rather stunning:

The number of children who ever had asthma went up in proportion to their chlorinated pool exposure. Teens who swam for 100 to 500 hours in chlorinated pools had an 80 percent increased risk of having asthma, while those who logged 500 to 1,000 hours had just over twice the risk. When teens spend more than 1,000 hours swimming in chlorinated water, the risk of ever having had asthma nearly quadrupled. The risk of currently having asthma was more than eight times higher in the group with more than 1,000 hours in chlorinated pools compared to those who were rarely in chlorinated water, according to the study.

The thing about chlorinated pools, as you may have already found out if you have asthma, is that the chemicals build up in the air around the pools.  It's for this reason that you may find -- as I have -- that you may need to use your rescue inhaler even while simply  hanging around pools.  This is especially true if the pool is in a poorly ventilated area.

In her article, Gordon quotes experts who suggest that the chemicals in chlorine may cause airway inflammation that may trigger an asthma attack.  These same experts also  believe  people frequently  exposed to chlorinated water  may develop inflammation along the air passages that becomes permanent, and in this way  develop asthma.

So not only is chlorinated water an asthma trigger, it's also a cause of asthma.    The study also suggests that exposure to chlorinated water  increases your risk of developing allergy symptoms, which would explain the stuffy nose and irritated eyes.

So given this wisdom am I now going to recommend asthmatics avoiding swimming pools?  Heck no As a matter of fact, I highly recommend them.  Studies also show that swimming is one of the best ways for those with hardluck asthma to get exercise, as I wrote about here.

What I would recommend is that you be careful.  Just make sure you take your medicine as recommended by your doctor, and you make sure you take your rescue medicine with you at all times.    If you're asthma or allergies start to act up around the pool, take a time out.