Preventing Eye Irritation from Pool Chemicals

Key points

  • Chlorine is used in pools to kill germs, but it can also combine with sweat, dirt, and pee to create chemical irritants called chloramines.
  • Chloramines can turn into gas and irritate the eyes and lungs.
  • Keeping sweat, dirt, and pee out of the water helps prevent chloramines from forming.


Chlorine is commonly added to the water to prevent the spread of germs and outbreaks in swimming pools and other recreational water venues. When chlorine combines with pee, poop, sweat, dirt, skin cells, deodorant, and makeup that wash off swimmers' bodies, it causes two problems:

  • It decreases the amount of chlorine available to kill germs.
  • It creates chemical irritants called chloramines ("chlor," short for chlorine, and "amines," compounds that contain nitrogen).


If you smell "chlorine" at the place you swim, you are probably smelling chloramines. Chloramines in the water can turn into gas in the surrounding air. This is more common in indoor pools, which often are not as well-ventilated as outdoor pools. The chloramines that form in pool water are different from the chloramine that is sometimes used to treat drinking water.

Signs and symptoms

Breathing in or coming into contact with chloramines at the places we swim can lead to negative health effects.

  • Anyone in the swimming area, swimmers or otherwise, can experience respiratory symptoms such as nasal irritation, coughing, and wheezing. Asthma attacks can be triggered in people who have asthma.
  • Swimmers can experience red and itchy eyes, skin irritation, and rashes.

Prevention tips

Prevent chloramines from forming

  • Never swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.
  • Use the toilet before getting into the water.
  • Shower before getting into the water. Rinsing off in the shower for just one minute can remove most of the dirt or anything else on your body.
  • Wear a bathing cap while in the water.
  • Never pee in the water.
  • Every hour:
    • Take kids on bathroom breaks.
    • Change diapers away from the poolside.

Talk to others

  • Tell other swimmers and parents of young swimmers about chloramines and the steps they can take to help prevent them.
  • Encourage pool operators to take steps known to prevent and get rid of chloramines.
  • Tell the lifeguard or pool operator immediately if you or your family or friends:
    • See poop in water;
    • Smell chemical odors in the swimming area; or
    • Experience respiratory, eye, or skin irritation that could be linked to the water or the air surrounding the water.