ALBANY, Ga. -- Eye care experts are urging swimmers, especially since it is getting near the end of summer, to take simple steps to protect the health of their eyes before splashing into their swimming pools.
"Problems come from pools that aren't properly cleaned or washed," said Dr. Jerry Prchal of Albany Eye Care. "The eye is exposed to the outside, so it has a protective feature. But, when you are in the pool, the ability of the eye to defend itself is reduced."
Specifically, improper chemical levels can result in more bacteria exposed to the eye if the levels are too low, or tissue loss from chemical burns if it is too highWith tissue loss, the eye is not protected as it was. This leaves them open to infection," Prchal said. "The biggest problem is chemical burns and the associated conditions with that."
Experiencing burning or itchy eyes after spending time in the water is a common problem experienced by those who swim in chlorinated pools. Caused by irritants such as chlorine, air pollution or chemical exposure, chemical conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin layer of transparent tissue that covers the white of the eye.
When the symptoms include blurriness or haloes around lights due to swelling, the cornea -- the clear front surface of the eye -- may be involved. Corneal irritation from the irritants in pool water would be classified as chemical keratitis.
Experts with the Georgia Optometric Association say that people who experience chemical conjunctivitis or chemical keratitis from swimming are likely to display symptoms in both eyes. These symptoms can be manifested as a combination of gritty sensation, itching, burning and excessive tearing of the eyes.
Discharge from one or both eyes is a common symptom, as are swollen eyelids, redness, light sensitivity and blurred vision.
It is more likely that people will experience these problems either at the beginning or end of the summer since people tend to not check their chemical levels as much during these times, Prchal said.
"At the end of the season, people will let it go more," he said. "In mid-October, there are people still getting in pools after not touching them for a month.
"The beginning or the end of the season is when people haven't been checking chlorine levels."
It's also more common among people who frequent pools rather than those who take the occasional dip.
"Oftentimes when I look at (patients), I'll see they've been in the sun a lot," Prchal explained. "Most of them have had issues before and have realized they need goggles."
And such symptoms may not be something patients will mention right away, as Prchal has observed.
"They will present for an evaluation and they'll say: 'By the way' ...," he said.
In order to prevent these problems, pool owners are advised to maintain a pH level between 7.2-7.8 and check pH and chlorine levels on a regular basis either by using test strips or taking samples to a pool supply store for testing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a chlorine level of 1-3 parts-per-million.
It is also recommended that people use goggles while swimming and limit exposure to pool chemicals.