Swimmer's red eyes: chlorine or something else?

Swimmer's red eyes: chlorine or something else?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a public campaign through the healthy swimming program to alert swimmers about some of the health risks in the water. (Source: CDC)

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Do your eyes turn red after swimming in a backyard swimming pool or water park?

When the head of the CDC's healthy swimming program shared some insight into swimming pools, he opened a lot of eyes. The nationwide campaign shows the smell of what many people think is chlorine, is actually the smell of chemicals as the chlorine mixes with pee, poop, sweat, and dirt.

It's something the eyes can show. 

"It causes extreme dryness to the eyes and also the chemicals cause a chemical allergic allergy to the eyes," said optometrist, Dr. Mel Gehrig, at The Eye Clinic in Lake Charles.

Dr. Gehrig says he sees lots of red eyes this time of year, but it's not always the pool to blame.

"The main two causes of red eyes most of the time and during the summer is dry eyes and allergy eyes," said Dr. Gehrig.

Summer allergens?  Dr. Gehrig says we have them year-round in the deep south.

" It usually comes in three to four times, every time we see a change in leaves and new growing time," said Dr. Gehrig. "October is a bad time, May and June is a bad time."

So what about the pool water?  How can you know that it's not going to burn your eyes or turn them red?

The CDC says healthy pools and water parks don't have a strong chemical smell.

Dr. Gehrig says he trusts that if pH and disinfectant levels are appropriate, the pee and poo chemical mix won't be problematic!

"Hopefully not! Probably more fiction than fact," he said.  "The chlorine kind of does it all for it unless there's not enough."

If you are going swimming, add goggles to your swimming attire.  

Artificial tears with lubrication can ease any allergic irritation.

The CDC recommends you ask to see a pool's inspection results if you are concerned about its safety.  If you own a pool, use test strips to check chemical levels.

If you have a child in a swim diaper or swim pants, be aware that those do not stop germs from getting into the water.

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