Red, irritated eyes, sometimes accompanied by dry, itchy skin, are a problem for some swimmers. Many incorrectly blame such discomfort on “too much chlorine in the water”. Chlorine is not the culprit! Even in concentrations above 5 parts per million, chlorine will not burn eyes, dry out skin, or damage hair. In fact, superchlorination is often the most effective treatment for eye burn and skin discomfort. Swimmer discomfort can be caused by several factors:
- pH Imbalances
The human eye carries a pH of about 7.2. Exposure to pH levels significantly lower or significantly high than 7.2 will irritate the eye. Have you ever tried to spoon into a grapefruit half, only to have a spray of grapefruit juice hit you right in the eye? Citrus fruits are slightly acidic — the pH of grapefruit is around 5.0 — so a little grapefruit juice feels just like a poke in the eye. Most soaps and shampoos are alkaline, with pH levels well above 8.4. Despite the difference in pH, their effect on the eye is the same: an eyeful of shampoo is a miserable experience. When pool water is allowed to become too acidic (6.8 or lower) or too alkaline (8.2 or higher), the result to swimmers is the same as exposing their eyes to shampoo or grapefruit juice: it stings like crazy! Over time, pH imbalbnces can also cause deterioration of pool plaster, fittings, and circulation equipment.
Under ideal circumstances, chlorine applied to the pool will bond to water molecules, forming a chemical called hypochlorus acid. Hypochlorus acid sanitizes the pool water: it kills algae and bacteria, and keeps the pool water safe and pleasant. When ammonia is introduced to the water, the chlorine in hypochlorus acid bonds to it, creating a new, unpleasant chemical, chloramine.Chloramine is an irritant, causing redness, soreness, and puffiness around the eyes, dry, itchy skin, and irritation to the mouth and throat. Since it bonds to chlorine, chloriamine compromises the effectiveness of pool sanitizers, greatly increasing the likelihood that your pool will develop problems with algae and bacteria. Finally, it produces a strong, unpleasant odor, that most people describe as a “bleachy” smell.
Ammonia is an undesirable, but nearly unavoidable presence in pool water. Swimmer byproducts — sweat, spit, urine, even hairspray, colognes, and deodorants — bird droppings, dog waste, lawn and garden fertilizers and some “quatrain” chemical algaecides all contain ammonia. odor.
Chloramine is reactive to pH levels: the lower the pH, the more pronounced the irritating effect of chloramine. Since low pH is itself an irritant, the combination of low pH and chloramine can make for an especially unpleasant experience.
There’s only one cure for chloramine: BURN OUT. No, we’re not talking about turning on and tuning out; breaking chloramine’s hold on your pool requires adding enough chlorine to “burn out” the ammonia hiding in the water. Burn out, or breakpoint chlorination, requires adding a heavy dose of chlorine to the pool. This superchlorination will destroy ammonia, eradicate chloramine, and restore a pleasant taste, feel, and scent to the pool water.
- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
A third causative factor for eye irritation in swimming pools can be a high level of dissolved material in the water. An acceptable amount of total dissolved solids (TDS) may be as low as a few hundred parts per million (ppm) and as high as 2000-3000 ppm. When levels exceed 3000, the results may include eye irritation, cloudy water, and difficulties in maintaining water balance. Meters are commonly used to measure the TDS of a pool, but a do-it-yourself test is to simply open your eyes underwater. Pool water with excess TDS may be crystal clear when looking at the water from above, but when you open your eyes underwater, it is normally turbid (cloudy or hazy). If you suspect high TDS, call Pelican Pool for testing of your water.
Eye irritation, whether caused by pH, chloramine, TDS or some combination of factors is both preventable and curable. Although extended swimming may irritate eyes, irritation that occurs after only short periods of swimming needs to be investigated and remedied. If you are experience such irritation, please give us a call.