Chlorine problems: skin, hair, and lungs

I am having some chlorinated problems that I'm hoping others may be able to help with. I'm in the process of training for MIMS 2013, and am upping my yardage (and hours) in the pool each week. I'm now at the point where I'm pool swimming more than I ever have before: 6 days a week for over an hour each day. This is causing some problems that I'm not sure what to do about-- both annoying and painful. What makes me nervous is that my training is far from at its peak, meaning even more hours are in my near future.

The ANNOYING:
I stink. I work in a high school and even my students complain (good naturedly for the most part) that the classroom smells of chlorine. I use UltraSwim shampoo and conditioner liberally, and use the shampoo all over my body too. I cannot seem to get the smell off of my skin or hair. A separate issue is my suit, which is sealed away at work and not the cause of the problem. I wash it out aggressively, too, but when I hang it up at home in the afternoon, the smell immediately fills the room. Clearly I'm not getting the chlorine out of it at all.

The PAINFUL:
I am fine for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half in the pool. After that, I start to cough, and by the time I'm nearing 2 hours of swimming, I'm basically hacking up a lung between sets. The pool where I train is indoors (I'm in Brooklyn, NY) with decent but not awesome ventilation (obviously). I've certainly swum in pools with far worse ventilation. How do people do really long swims in indoor chlorinated pools?!?! I can't imagine that I'm going to get much past 2 hours at this rate. I have run out into the hallways to do some deep breathing of the "fresh" air there, and it helps a little, but the relief is temporary. What I crave is some kind of inhaler, as it feels similar to the "exercise induced asthma" I experienced as a child. Of course, this is not asthma, and is clearly an irritation from the chlorine in the air. I need like a fresh-air or ozone inhaler. Any NYC swimmers know of particularly well-ventilated pools? Any ideas that don't involve finding a different pool?

(So far as I know, NYC has only one non-chlorine indoor pool - the 92nd Street Y - which is really far from where I live. It could be a weekend long-swim option if I get desperate, but it could never be my daily swim spot.)

Comments

  • Hey Caitlin,
    First off congratulations on your acceptance to this years MIMS. I have experienced the symptoms you describe above, but its usually associated with poor pool maintenance. Although we only have 5 sessions per week, you are always welcome at St Francis. Since the filtration system was upgraded about a year ago, the water quality has been excellent.

    Good Luck in June!

    Mike
  • In regards to getting the smell off your skin I can recommend using very hot water when you shower. As uncomfortable as it is it usually does the trick. End with a cooler water to close the pores again.
  • I use one of those scrunchy sponges with moisturing soap in the shower and gobs and gobs of lotion to help remove the chlorine "perfume" and accompanying dry skin.

    I agree that it sounds like a chemical problem with your pool. Have you talked to the pool staff?

    I have similar symptoms with long pool swims and the chlorine irritation. I even got an inhaler because of the wheezing it induced. That helped some, but the problem is the chlorine. I'm hanging in the best I can until the ice melts! Good luck on your MIMS training and swim!
    Molly Nance, Lincoln, Nebraska
    http://mollysbigswim.blogspot.com/
    www.facebook.com/molly.nance
  • @caitlinrosen - Yes, CONGRATS on MIMS - very exciting indeed!

    I also have to train significant hours in the pool, and completely understand your frustration. Aside from any medical issues (judging by the inhaler comment) you might have, my recommendation is to find another pool. I swim in three different pools for my training; 2 of which I have no problems with, even after many hours swimming. However, the third pool I attend, I have about a 2-hour maximum before I start coughing pretty aggressively. I'm sure it has to do with ventilation, and/or chemicals, but yes, that is about as far as I get in that pool. Try attending other pools, even at least just as a test, to make sure it is in fact chemicals/ventilation, and not a deeper issue, such as a medical problem.

    As far as the chlorine smell goes, that is a swimmer 'badge of honor' if you ask me - tell your students to quit complaining because their teacher is obviously a rock star :)
    www.darren-miller.com
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.
  • Hey Caitlin,
    Although we only have 5 sessions per week, you are always welcome at St Francis.

    Thanks Mike. My issue with St. Francis is that it is limited to an hour. Am I right about that? Can I start before 6? Can I stay later than 7? If the answer to either is yes, I would happily join you guys there.

  • @caitlinrosen - Try attending other pools, even at least just as a test, to make sure it is in fact chemicals/ventilation, and not a deeper issue, such as a medical problem.

    As far as the chlorine smell goes, that is a swimmer 'badge of honor' if you ask me - tell your students to quit complaining because their teacher is obviously a rock star :)

    I think I will certainly have to do the other pool test. I do not think it is a medical issue, but I am curious about @molly1205's use of an inhaler. I suppose that's a conversation to be had with my general practitioner?

    As far as the 'badge of honor' goes, I'll try to adopt that attitude. My students are actually taking an interest this year and ask a lot of questions about MIMS. The chlorine smell is their reminder that they may be tired, but that my alarm went off 2 hours before theirs did. :)

  • Yes, an inhaler needs to be prescribed by a doctor. I've noticed a little improvement using it. I swim in 2 different pools and one is worse than the other. In fact, for really long swims (more than a couple of hours), I'll drive to a pool 90 minutes away that uses a salt-based filtration system.
    Molly Nance, Lincoln, Nebraska
    http://mollysbigswim.blogspot.com/
    www.facebook.com/molly.nance
  • Hey Caitlin,
    Although we only have 5 sessions per week, you are always welcome at St Francis.

    Thanks Mike. My issue with St. Francis is that it is limited to an hour. Am I right about that? Can I start before 6? Can I stay later than 7? If the answer to either is yes, I would happily join you guys there.

    Short answer to both is no...sorry.
  • I agree the chlorine is simply a swimmers deodorant.
  • @CaitlinRosen Can I ask whether the pool is used a lot by babies and small children?

    Our local pool management tell us that the strong chlorine smell is given off when the chlorine in the pool reacts with urine. One of our local pools gives off a much stronger chlorine smell than the other - I avoid that one if possible. Our local competition pool is rarely used by small children as there is a 20m pool next to it - the 20m pool smells quite strongly of chlorine, whereas I never notice anything when training in the competition pool (I can do 3-4 hours in there with no problems).
  • I have terrible problems with the pool too. As my partner lovingly observes, I turn into a "great big bucket of snot" after a decent length pool swim (although luckily, generally no chest problems, and that's with a history of asthma). And I smell of chlorine. I am quite the catch, I can tell you. I've found that anti-histamines help - I take one most days now to keep it all at bay. As for the chlorine smell...can't help with that one, except that it helps to mix it up with interesting shower gels - mint works quite well, as does coconut.

    I stopped training at my university pool because I kept getting ear infections. As soon as I moved pools, the infections stopped. My new pool seems much more 'chemical', but no ear infections, which is a real bonus. You win some, you lose some.

    On a more positive note, can't wait to see you at MIMS! At least we'll both be easy to spot / smell.
  • Congratulations on your MIMS entry.

    Chlorine smell? The only way I have ever found to get rid of it is to ride my bike trainer hard and sweat it out. Any chance you have access to a sauna? My wife hates the smell but so far hasn't demanded we sleep in separate rooms.

    I do all my training in an indoor pool with limited ventilation. I started to get headaches when they finally discovered their system was on the blink. A couple of asthmatic kids on the swim team were having problems. The biggest problem I had when training for marathon swims was that my body hair was burning off. I'm too hairy anyway so this didn't bother me.

    Smelly suit? Bag it in a zip lock and use 2 suits alternating days. When you get home with the wet one find someone with a cat and hang it over the litter box.
  • I also swim at 3-4 different pools. The two closest to me cause major breathing problems, and only minor issues with the other two. I've always been sensitive to chlorine fumes, and have just learned to deal with it and save my longer swims for the pools that aggravate me the least.

    People at work always complain that I smell like a pool, especially first thing in the morning. You can try lotion (that's always worked better for me than good smelling soap), but I dunno about you guys, but I sorta like the smell of chlorine. At least you know you're the cleanest peron around!
  • Congrats on MIMS! I have similar problems with my breathing and I find using a variety of pools helps some. It seems with me that once it gets into my chest I have a hard time getting past it. I've used inhalers and things like Advair and Singulair. As for the skin I agree that tons of lotion seems to help with moisture but I still itch like crazy and the lotion makes the chlorine smell worse. I have a friend who uses Swim Spray and I'm going to try that. I also wonder if finding a way to get it off of me will help with the physical reaction. If you are smelling it while you are swimming and then all day it's bound to cause breathing problems! Will let you know how the swim spray works.
  • A dostor swimmer friend of mine discussed the possibility of an anti-viral nasal thingy- I only react at certain times of year- usually when there are loads of colds about and he reackons the viral load in the water plus chlorine (pool technician has told me it is actually the acidity not chlorine itself -that's skin itch) overloads the system
  • Let me start by saying how amazing this forum is. I've been an avid reader since the beginning, but this is the first time I've started a thread and it is so cool to have so many people chiming in with thoughts and advice. Thanks, all!

    That said, @zoesadler you may have just broken my spirit with your news...
    ZoeSadler said:

    @CaitlinRosen Can I ask whether the pool is used a lot by babies and small children?

    Our local pool management tell us that the strong chlorine smell is given off when the chlorine in the pool reacts with urine. One of our local pools gives off a much stronger chlorine smell than the other - I avoid that one if possible. Our local competition pool is rarely used by small children as there is a 20m pool next to it - the 20m pool smells quite strongly of chlorine, whereas I never notice anything when training in the competition pool (I can do 3-4 hours in there with no problems).

    Yes, my main/daily pool is a YMCA pool and there are LOTS of children and babies that use it. I really hope that your local pool management was wrong because that is just the foulest reason ever to have this problem. Ug. Wow.



  • Fraid so - this is from an article I wrote a while back after researching the subject:
    Chlorine is added to pools for the same reason it is added to tap water: to prevent microbial infection. But chemicals like chlorine aren’t static. In water they break down into chlorinated by-products (more often called disinfectant by-products or DBPs) even without the presence of other compounds. But when there are other compounds in the water, like sweat, dirt, urine, and other human bodily excretions, the chlorine pairs up with other substances, forming more by-products. The dirtier the pool, the more DBPs there are - you are smelling DBPs when you notice a strong chlorine odor in a pool - but they are present at some level in the cleanest pools and in your drinking water.
    That said, my husband and I both swim and I find the faint odor of chlorine kinda sexy. Sorry if that crosses the line..... :-)
  • What works for me after a pool swim (choline bath) is dousing myself with a Vitamin C solution. I put about a1/4 cup of Vitamin C crystals (Trader Joe) in 16 oz. warm water, dissolve it, and squirt it all over, using maybe 1/4 of the bottle, rub it in and rinse. It stings a little, but it binds to the chlorine and washes off in the shower. similar to SwimSpray, but costs pennies. Still have to put lotion on because my skin gets so dry but not stinky anymore.
  • Thanks, everyone for your feedback. These responses prompted me to do a bit more research. I wrote up my findings and what I think about them in this post:

    Preparing to Swim Manhattan; Lessons from a Winter of Chlorine
    http://throwmeintheocean.com/2013/06/07/preparing-to-swim-manhattan-lessons-from-a-winter-of-chlorine/

  • I had the same problems with pool chemicals. It was so bad that last summer, the combo of daily pool training and southern california sunshine turned my eyebrows white/blond (my hair is darker brown), revived my eczema pbm and got me sneezing if i exceeded 1 hour in the pool! That's how i started swimming in the ocean. Ever since I left the pool, all these pbms disappeared. Can u train in the ocean? As for the chlorine smell, I Never tried it but a friend of mine suggested that I rince my body with a mix of water/ fresh squeezed lemon juice. It seems logical.. After all, lemon is often used to remove fish smell from chefs' hands when cooking fish.
  • I'm not sure if it's the chlorine in the pool but I've struggled for the last 3 months or more with my sinus'es. Some days I feel like I'm constantly having to blow my nose. It's driving me crazy. I know they have increase the pool chlorine after some issues they had and today especially the pool was quite mirky But I don't smell the chlorine... so I don't know. Must try get some alergy tablets or something soon
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