By Deborah Condon
Chlorine, the chemical used to keep swimming pools clean, may increase a child's risk of developing asthma, the results of a new study indicate. In recent years, the incidence of childhood asthma has risen dramatically, with one in seven Irish children and teenagers now affected, according to the Asthma Society of Ireland.
Researchers carried out tests on 226 healthy children who swam regularly, in order to determine the levels of lung proteins in their blood. An increase in these proteins indicates that the cells lining the lungs have been damaged, which can lead to asthma.
The researchers also measured the lung proteins in 16 children and 13 adults before and after exposure to an indoor chlorinated pool. As well as this, they studied relations between pool attendance and asthma prevalence in 1,881 children.
The study found that those who attended pools regularly, whether they were swimming or not, were most likely to have high levels of lung proteins. However those who swam most often had protein levels similar to that of a regular smoker.
It appears that when chlorine reacts with organic matter in a swimming pool, such as sweat or urine, a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals result, which are then inhaled by people.
Based on these findings, the Belgian researchers concluded that 'the increasing exposure of children to chlorination products in indoor pools might be an important cause of the rising incidence of childhood asthma and allergic diseases in industrialised countries'.
However they added that further studies are required in this area.
Details of this study are published in the 'Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine'.
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