Ever felt like you are having an asthma attack after a swim in the pool, the same shortness of breath, tightness in the chest? This could be an indication that you are allergic to chlorine. Although very rarely fatal, an allergic reaction to chlorine can cause moderate to severe discomfort in many people.
Since chlorine is one of the most commonly found elements around us it is not easily avoidable and all of us have been exposed to small amounts of chlorine at least once in our lifetime. These days, common food items, paints, metal solvents, insecticides, antiseptics, drugs, laundry detergents, and even water purifiers contain some amount of chlorine. Most of us are unaware that while chlorine is beneficial in preventing and reducing contamination, it can also be very toxic. Chlorine allergy is a type four allergy, since it is cell-mediated, it is also called delayed allergy. The symptoms of chlorine allergy may warrant lifestyle adjustments.
There are several different ways an individual can get exposed to chlorine; direct contact with skin and eyes, such as in swimming pools; inhaling or breathing in chlorine fumes, such as in cleaners; or ingestion, such as in certain food items. In order to successfully identify an allergic reaction; one has to be aware of the symptoms. Chlorine allergy symptoms can be classified into different categories based on the various body parts or organs adversely affected by it.
Types of Chlorine Allergy Symptoms
1. Skin conditions
Because of the large surface area of the human body, the first organ to come in contact with chlorine, in any kind of exposure, is the skin. Chlorine allergy symptoms can be manifested on the skin in form of itchy rashes, very similar to Eczema. These painful rashes predominantly appear in the arms, knees, armpits and groin areas. Severe itching and peeling may also result. Dryness of the skin is another common occurrence. Since laundry detergents are a common source of chlorine, people allergic to this substance have to be very careful and avoid wearing any fabric treated with chlorine. If affected, the area should be rinsed with a lot of water immediately and a physician should be contacted.
2. Eye Irritation
Irritation of the eyes is the most common chlorine allergy symptom. This can occur in any form of exposure to chlorine, whether contact with chlorinated water or inhalation of chlorine fumes.
In this case, the eyes become painful, red, dry or watery, itchy and swollen. In some instances even a person’s eyelashes can fall out. As soon any symptom like this is identified as being an allergic reaction, the burning or itching can be stopped by rinsing the eyes with water and applying cold compress. Rubbing eyes should be avoided as they can cause further irritation and worsen the effects of chlorine.
3. Respiratory ailments
An exposure to chlorine can also cause serious respiratory concerns in persons allergic to the substance. The symptoms are very similar to asthma attacks and they can occur suddenly and without warning which is why they are a particular cause for concern.
The individual can experience a tightness of the chest, suffocation, shallow breathing or difficulty in breathing, and sneezing or coughing. If an allergic reaction is suspected, a physician should be consulted immediately. Fortunately the cases of anaphalactic shock are very rare and will only affect a small percentage of the population.
4. Gastrointestinal complaints
A direct, accidental ingestion of a chlorinated substance can cause nausea and vomiting. It is also a common symptom if chlorine fumes are inhaled in any way. This usually happens if the concentration of chlorine the person is exposed to is very high. This may also lead to dizziness or delusional feeling in some extreme cases. If anything like this occurs, it is not recommended to induce vomiting or to drink any fluids. You should contact your poison control center as soon as possible.
Chlorine allergy, in rare cases, can develop into serious secondary life-threatening conditions such as lung collapse, pulmonary injury and a type of asthma called reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS). Prolonged exposure to chlorine also poses serious risks to individuals in especially sensitive categories, such as pregnant women, infants, and older people.
Since kids are more sensitive than adults, the chlorine allergy symptoms are manifested in more severe ways in them. A common allergic symptom in kids caused by exposure to chlorinated substances is breaking-out into painful hives and skin rashes. In addition to these, chlorine allergy in Infants and children can cause long term conditions such as hay fever, other serious allergies and asthma. Although, the studies so far have been inconsistent and inconclusive, the danger of chlorine allergy goes up in pregnant women. The by-product of chlorine, trihalomethane (THM) is known to cause miscarriages, low birth weight, neural tube defects, and urinary tract infections in many pregnant women.
What to Do If You Show Signs of Chlorine Allergy?
Fortunately if you suffer from chlorine allergy there are a number of measures that you can take to avoid and prevent the symptoms from reoccurring. These include lifestyle changes, improving your immune system and using natural alternatives to chlorine.
Downing, L. (2011), “Swimming pools and asthma: a new risk or premature concern?”, Contempt Nurse Feb;37(2):225-6
Welsh, A. (2011, “Chlorine Allergy Symptoms” [online] [view]
Bernard A., Voisin, C. and Sardella, A. (2011), “Respiratory risks associated with chlorinated swimming pools: a complex pattern of exposure and effects”, Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 Mar 1;183(5):570-2