What causes red eyes when swimming?

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

Do your eyes turn red after swimming in a swimming pool or at a water park? The chlorine may not be the culprit.

What is irritating the eyes of swimmers?

When the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's healthy swimming program shared some insight into swimming pools, he opened a lot of eyes.

A campaign shows the smell of what many people think is "chlorine," but is actually the smell of chemicals as the chlorine mixes with urine, feces, sweat and dirt. And the eyes can show it.

"It causes extreme dryness to the eyes and also the chemicals cause a chemical allergy to the eyes,"  optometrist Dr. Mel Gehrig said.

He said 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 more during the summer is dry eyes and allergy eyes," Gehrig said.

Summer allergens?

Gehrig said we have summer allergies year-round in the deep south.

"It usually comes in three to four times. Every time we see a change in leaves and a new growing time," Gehrig said. "October is a bad time. June 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 waterparks don't have a strong chemical smell.

And Gehrig says he trusts that if Ph and disinfectant levels are appropriate, the urine and feces chemical mix won't be problematic.

Helpful tips

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

Gehrig said 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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