Why Do My Eyes Hurt From Swimming?


Growing up I, like most all of us, was taught that the chlorine in the pool water was what made our eyes red and sore. At best, that’s a poor interpretation of the truth. What makes our eyes red in the swimming pool is actually the urine in the pool, or more precisely, the urine, sweat, and oils from the skin interacting the chlorine, making chloramine. Chloramines (NH2Cl) are derivatives of ammonia where hydrogen atoms are replaced with chlorine atoms. It’s this chemical compound that not only irritates our eyes but can also be an irritant to the lungs and skin of swimmers as well.

In one study, researchers tested 31 pools in 2017 and found urine is every pool they tested. On average there were 8 gallons of urine in a medium sized 110,000-gallon pool. One hotel hot tub tested had three times the urine level of the worst swimming pool.

The pool smell we all associate with fun summers isn’t the smell of the chlorine, but the chloramines in the water. It is not the smell of too much chlorine, but often, not enough chlorine. Generally, the stronger the smell of “chlorine” a pool has, the more caution you should exercise in swimming in that pool. A well-maintained swimming pool has almost no odor.

The best rules for swimming are:

Shower ahead of time to help wash off any sweat, perfumes, or oils.

Rub suntan lotion deep into skin before entering the pool. Properly applied suntan lotion should not be visible to the eye when applied correctly. Applying sunscreen seconds before jumping in will do no one any good as it will wash off immediately.

Do not swim if suffering from any form of diarrhea.

Do not urinate in the pool.

Since most us swim in community pools where instituting these common sense rules rely on everyone’s voluntarily complying with the rules will be virtually impossible, we suggest wearing swim goggles when swimming laps or doing much of anything that requires your eyes to be exposed to pool water for any length of time. We also suggest rinsing off pool water after getting home to make sure no nasty germs or parasites find a nice home with you.

We certainly don’t want to be a downer and scare you away from the pool. People have always peed in the pool, and probably always will. We just want too arm you with the facts and make you more aware. My uncle used to have a sign on the fence of his swimming pool. It’s a sign we should all keep in mind every summer.


With all that said, have a wonderful summer swimming, wherever you swim.

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