While swimming at a public pool is a great way to cool off and have fun, it can also put your health in jeopardy. Aside from taking the usual precautions such as wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated while lounging, it’s important to pay attention to some easily overlooked areas and to learn some important facts you may not have known.
For example, your red, itching eyes are because pools overdid it on chlorine, right? Not entirely, according to experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s making your eyes look like you’ve pulled an all-nighter is partially the chlorine, but it’s also due to reactions that occur when that pool chemical mixes with urine, fecal matter (yes, it’s true), sweat, dirt, and chemicals from personal products (such as makeup).
As if that’s not bothersome enough, the pool environment amps up the nasty factor because it offers not one, but several, ways to interfere with your good health. For example, accidentally swallowing water, inhaling air irritations released from urination, and absorbing chemicals through the skin are all ways in which public pools can present problems. Aggravation of asthma symptoms and developing diarrhea are the least of your concerns, too—when chlorine binds with all of these other elements, the poisonous gases released have the potential to tamper with your heart, lungs and nervous system. All of these problems are what the CDC refers to as “Recreational Water Illnesses.”
To stay safe, try to minimize time spent in pools and, if possible, go during times that aren’t crowded. Of course, you should also do your best to avoid getting water in your mouth when you do decide to cool off. Sure, cutting back on going underwater and refusing to engage in super splashy pool games take some of the fun out of swimming, but your health is worth the sacrifice.
Also, after swimming, fight the urge to simply dry off before switching back into your regular clothes; instead, take the time to shower, rinsing off as many chemicals and germs as possible.
While showering—and walking around the pool or changing room for that matter—never go barefoot. The moist, warm conditions in these areas amplify the potential for developing fungal infections, so it’s easy to pick up a toe or nail problem. It may feel odd to shower or change with something on your feet, but it certainly beats lingering in slimy floor residue where hundreds of people have been before you. If you forget foot protection, at least consider changing your clothes while using your towel as a floor mat (which should be put in a separate bag from the rest of your clothes and washed promptly when you get home).
Aside from fungal infections, the slippery environment also makes accidents more likely to occur. Prevent slipping and falling by keeping something on your feet as often as possible. Even if you’re walking a short distance, be sure to keep your feet covered. Slips can happen suddenly, and it’s best to be cautious.
No matter where you are in the pool, it’s important to keep an eye on your surroundings. Check to see that a lifeguard is on duty and seems attentive. Are they looking at their phone or talking with friends surrounding the lifeguard stand, or are they focused on pool activity? Swimmer health is very important, so making sure a responsible lifeguard is watching over everyone is essential. They’re trained to handle pool incidents such as drowning and CPR—swimming without an actively-engaged lifeguard puts everyone’s health at risk.
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Furthermore, while time spent at the pool is about having a good time, make sure to not overdo it. Signs about not running or diving in shallow areas are there for a reason; heed their advice to avoid accidents. Use your common sense—go easy, resist the urge to rush around, use handrails when entering pools, and don’t stay in hot tubs for more than the recommended time (especially if you have a pre-existing health condition that warns against extreme heat exposure).
Swimming is a great exercise and an ideal way to cool off. However, the public pool environment can be detrimental to your health by causing new problems or intensifying existing ones. Staying mindful of its potential hazards is the best way to stay safe.