Why do my eyes get red and itchy in swimming pools? (Hint: It’s not the chlorine)


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Photo: Getty Images/Ugljesa Stajic

After floating around in a swimming pool, it’s not uncommon for your eyes to get a little red and itchy. While many people chalk it up to the high chlorine content of the water, that’s not exactly the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the problem is actually due to all the urine in the water. Yeah, that’s probably not the #truthbomb you wanted to hear today, huh?

Chlorine is put into pools to kill germs. When it binds to urine (which swimmers put into pools), it forms chemicals called chloramines. According to the CDC, those chemicals are what cause your eyes to become so irritated, as well as your skin and respiratory tract. Now, rest assured: swimming in water with urine in it isn’t going to kill you. Gross, yes, but life-threatening? Certainly not. If you want to enjoy sunny days poolside, you just need to take some precautions and be ready to fight off any itchiness and redness that results from the nearly-unavoidable issue.

According to Myles Zakheim, OD, optometrist and co-founder of Zak., the most effective way to solve the problem is going to make you look a little nerdy but cute. “The best way to minimize eye irritation is to wear water-tight swim goggles, which prevent seepage. These are commonly used by competitive and social swimmers and are readily available at local sporting goods stores,” he says. Aside from rocking goggles, optometrist Andrea P Thau, OD, also recommends eye drops and removing your contacts if you wear them. “Use lubricating eye drops or gel tears before and after swimming to protect the tear film, and rinse your eyes with sterile saline immediately after swimming,” she says.

If you still end up with redness and itchiness, grab something soothing. “If you’re enjoying a day at the pool and your eyes become red or begin to itch, cover them with a cool compress,” says ophthalmologist Michael Rauser, MD, director of the Loma Linda University Eye Institute. “You can also flush your eyes with cool water or artificial tears. If itching continues, over the counter allergy drops can soothe the eyes, too.”

Luckily, any redness and itchiness should dissipate quickly. And, please, don’t put pee in the pool.

If you have red, itchy eyes due to allergies, here’s exactly how to get some relief. And to make sure sunscreen doesn’t cause any stinging, here’s the perfect solution to protect your sensitive eye area without feeling the burn.

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