Ask Swim Mom: What About the Chlorine Cough?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

After a long meet this weekend, my daughter, for the second time, developed a nasty dry cough about 3/4 of the way through. She has asthma. After speaking with other parents, I was told that it happens all the time and isn’t necessarily connected to the asthma, although I’m sure it’s worse with it. They said it’s called Swimmer’s Cough. It seems concerning to me. Should I be concerned?

Any thoughts or advice you have is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Concerned About Chlorine

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Dear Concerned About Chlorine,

As the mother of a son with asthma, I’m all too familiar with the cough. Two times, I’ve seen swimmers taken by ambulance to the hospital—including Caeleb Dressel at Junior Nationals in 2013. At that meet, my daughter and her fellow swimmers from Southern California (who swim outside most of the time) stayed outside in the cold between swims.

We call it the “chlorine cough” and it usually happens in indoor pools with poor ventilation. I agree with you, it seems to be harder on swimmers who have asthma. I definitely suggest discussing the cough with your daughter’s asthma doctor. He or she may have strategies or offer medication to help. With our son, who was hospitalized as a toddler with asthma, the cough would turn into an upper respiratory infection and last for weeks. It made swimming a struggle for him to constantly be fighting illness. On the flip side, his asthma doctor felt that swimming was a benefit to his asthma and greatly increased his lung capacity.

While some indoor pools are able to air out the impurities with open doors, windows and fans, some pools spend tons of money to improve their ventilation systems, especially if they are hosting large meets. Another option is BioOx Air-Cleaning systems which is a more affordable way to clean the air with natural enzymes. As the parent of a swimmer who is suffering from poor air quality, perhaps you could bring up some of these solutions to your coach or person who runs the pool.

I hope your daughter has a healthy season and is cough free.

What advice do you have for Concerned About Chlorine and “swimmer’s cough?”

If you have a question for Ask Swim Mom, please email Elizabeth Wickham at [email protected]

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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Olympian
1 year ago

Oh the good old days when I could only train on some Alegra… Chlorine allergy is a helluva struggle

Anonymous
1 year ago

Some of the LSC’s have discovered that the poor air quality is a result of the oils from the swimmers and their urine mixing with the chemicals in the pool. This is why swimmers should take a shower before entering the pool and told not to pee in the pool. Championship meets are the worst because of the tech suits, and the inability to get out of them to go to the bathroom, and the large # of swimmers that are churning up the chemicals. Best bet is to get fresh air, and just prepare for it. Hope NCAA’s at UGA brings in fans to clear the air. The air is horrible at championship meets there.

RenéDescartes
Reply to  Anonymous
1 year ago

It shouldn’t be a problem at NCAA’s. That’s never a huge meet. It’s the worst at the larger meets, like the article mentioned, Juniors in 2013 at Greensboro.

John
Reply to  Anonymous
1 year ago

My swimmer and her friends all go to the shower and urinate with their suits on and then rinse off. They’re ten. Hard to believe the older kids are peeing in the pool.

Yes! When the chlorine/bromine reacts with the pollutants in the pool it creates trihalomethanes.
https://www.cdc.gov/safewater/chlorination-byproducts.html

Orange-Hoosier
Reply to  John
1 year ago

Yes, but are the ten year olds wearing tech suits? And why go to the showers instead of using the toilet, if you aren’t going to remove your suit?

Tiffany Lee
1 year ago

I have a swimmer who had to drop out of LC season when he was young because he developed pneumonia because of an abundance of symptoms from the air quality and chemicals coming off the surface of the water. His Asthma started then and he has been under an allergy and asthma specialist’s care ever since. He is on an elite team and he would not be there and be able to withstand the rigorous workouts if he wasn’t being treated. We had to change teams so he is swimming in a facility that is just better equipped (this is not always a possibility). He has national rankings now and when we told his doctor he could not have made… Read more »

Coach
1 year ago

If your pool is known to have poor air quality kids who have not showered before entering the pool can cause chemicals to churn thus releasing chloramines in the air. This is what causes the cough. Urine, sweat, and oils on the body cause this and if you make kids shower before entering pool you can really help this annoying situation…. hope this helps

Swimmomtoo
1 year ago

More pools should use UV light system so that minimal chlorine would be needed.

retired coach
1 year ago

For older pools like ours, the following treatment on a monthly basis (and the day before championship meets) has eliminated the chloramines that previously caused the “swimmers cough”. Since it only requires a 2-3 hour shutdown, it does not disrupt programming, like the traditional super-chlorination treatment (which we do twice annually).

“In regards to the chemicals for controlling chloramines we are using an “Orb 3 Pool Enzyme Plus” followed by “Pro Team Shock and Swim”. The “enzyme” breaks down body oils and it sits in an uncirculated pool for an hour. These body oils contribute to chloramine production. Then we dump in the “shock” which sits in the uncirculated pool for another hour. Keep in mind that the shock is… Read more »

sscommentor
1 year ago

oh the days when i could blame my cough and bloodshot eyes on chlorine

Just a guy
Reply to  sscommentor
1 year ago

Legend

It's not the air
1 year ago

The SOURCE of the problem is not the air, it’s the water. Poor water quality causes poor air quality. The biggest secondary mistake pools make is opening doors and letting in air that is colder than the water temperature. This causes increased chloramine (NOT chlorine) activity, not less. In colder climates, the air feels refreshing but actually further stresses the respiratory system with the shock of cold and dry air. Air temperature in a pool area should be at least 2 degrees above the water temp to help keep chloramines at a manageable activity level.
Most times we find that the issue is worse with smaller volume pools and any pool when the normal bathing load is significantly increased… Read more »