Swimming provides good exercise and recreation for adults and children. When you get bumps on your skin after swimming, though, you might wonder if the water caused the condition. Public swimming pools use chemical disinfection to keep waters safe, but improper maintenance leads to problems for swimmers, including skin reactions and infections. Animal waste and other organic contaminants contribute to bacteria and algae growth in lakes and ponds and might cause skin problems.
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Untreated pool water is not safe for swimming. You rely on chemical disinfection in public facilities to neutralize bacteria and viruses introduced from swimmers, as well as other contaminants such as urine and sweat. Poorly maintained pools have unbalanced pool water. When the contaminant levels overwhelm the existing chlorine or other disinfectant in the water, byproducts from the disinfection process called chloramines build up and cause skin irritation, among other problems. You also suffer when bacteria grows in improperly treated water and develop skin problems, among other potential conditions.
Signs and Indications
Bumps might be a temporary irritation or symptoms of an infection that requires treatment. Rashes that go away after showering with soap and water indicate that you have sensitivity to the chemical disinfection process in pool water. Raised bumpy skin that does not go away might indicate a bacterial or viral infection. Both conditions warrant medical attention because even if they resolve themselves, it is important for you to know how to avoid worsening the condition or spreading it to others.
Basic skin sensitivity to treated water results in contact dermatitis. You develop reddened and irritated skin, sometimes with raised red bumps on your skin.
Swimmer's itch is another skin condition that causes red and raised bumps or even blisters on your skin. Parasites in infected water cause swimmer's itch. The condition usually resolves itself after about one week. A virus causes yet another skin condition called molluscum contagiosum. The virus enters your skin via an abrasion or cut and causes bumps that sometimes contain pus. Scratching the bumps and touching other parts of your body causes it to spread, and sharing a towel with infected people spreads the virus from person to person. The condition takes a few weeks to resolve, but until it does, you should not swim. Bacteria that thrive in warm spa water causes folliculitis, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society. You experience raised red bumps on your skin, usually where your swimsuit covered it. The bacteria do not survive on healthy skin outside the warm water, so the condition usually resolves quickly.
The only way to avoid swimming-related skin conditions is to avoid the source of the irritation or infection. Report any bacterial or viral infections you got from public pools to your local health board, and research other places to swim. Very crowded facilities have a higher risk of communicable disease transmission, but well maintained water is generally safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pool water is not the only source for infections. The World Health Organization says that open water such as lakes also host bacteria and protozoa. Brackish, warm waters are breeding grounds for bacteria and protozoa. Effluent from sewers and septic-system leaks pollutes ocean waters close to populated coastlines, particularly after rainstorms, so check with local health and recreation officials about conditions before heading into the surf.