Sometimes I feel like my swimming pool is one big laboratory experiment. Not that it is gross or slimy. In fact, it has been quite satisfactorily clear blue and squeaky clean for most of the over 2 years I have had it. It is even clear now, other than a slight residual of the purple sediment from the copper in the metal heater being corroded by chlorine from when I had some issues with keeping the pH high enough. But there are reactions going on and they aren’t always predictable, as can be attested to by the skin rash that I developed the last couple of weeks.
I have always had hyper sensitive skin. I have struggled with eczema, mostly on my hands and feet, since my early teenage years. Flower scented lotions make me itch as soon as they touch my skin, and I have horrible reaction to anything with tea tree oils in it. I wear gloves for nearly all house work. I got laser hair removal done because shaving resulted in such inflamed skin eruptions. Still, with all of this, I have been able to swim in many and all chlorinated pools in my path without issue for my whole life.
Even knowing my own skin, it was not easy to determine what was making me have hives and itchy raw spots that by the end of last week made me want to get up in the middle of the night and peel my whole skin off. A family member that I had had minimal contact with had shown me odd red patches on his hands and back, so I wondered if I had caught something, and, to tell the truth, I still don’t know if that was what I had first. Add to that that every winter my skin can get extremely dry and itchy, so what was developing was not any sort of clear signal that something was wrong.
I used to go to the doctor when I had skin flair ups of various sorts. They either didn’t know what was wrong (One arrogantly impatient doctor humiliated me when I expressed pain as he tried to kill what he described as some sort of “low grade wart” by applying liquid nitrogen to my thumb. That was many years ago, before I had come to understand my problems myself.); or they prescribe expensive creams that have no discernible healing affect (or make it worse); or they want to run lots of tests for the fun of it. Now, I manage it by being fanatically careful about what I put on my skin and olive oil is my main beauty moisturizer.
It has been ages since I have had a reaction this severe. I don’t remember itching this badly since I sat and cried with the chicken pox, being just old enough as a young girl that the admonition to not scratch so I “wouldn’t have scars all over my body” was a sufficient threat to give me the fortitude I needed to avoid scratching, but still left me in tears. Now, I wondered if I had some rare virus, such itching and little blistering spots often being a symptom of viruses. But I didn’t have a fever, and I wasn’t achey. I still had normal strength and stamina, until I was just getting mentally worn out by the unknown and the increasingly high level of discomfort. When it got to the point that I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was developing bloody raw spots on my arms and legs, it occurred to me that there might be something invisible going on with my swimming pool chemistry.
I promised my husband that I would at least not get back in the swimming pool for a while and see if that made a difference. He had firmly threatened me with a trip to the doctor if it didn’t get better. Being thoroughly convinced it would be a frustrating and useless trip, I began my research in earnest.
What I found was that something called “chloramines” can build up in the water, but they don’t register with the common home swimming pool chlorine monitoring methods. Most kits only test for what is called “free chlorine,” which is what is needed to keep the swimming pool water sanitized. However, the chloramines are known to irritate some people’s skin and eyes. Supposedly, these unwelcome chlorine byproducts can be eliminated by something called superchlorinating, or by another treatment sold by Dow Chemical. Maybe that is so, but my itchy skin, which was also peculiarly sensitive to cold and periodically tortured me with a feeling of pin-pricking popping, like a million little packing bubbles of carbon dioxide going off in waves all over me, reminded me that I had heard of some friends using an enzymatic “natural” treatment for their spa.
I had tried to look it up when I first heard about it, but the company they use did not reply to my attempts at contact. This time, I did more research and found another local competitor’s company, Water’s Choice. I read, admittedly somewhat skeptically, much of the information on his website. It sounded too good to be true. Then, I remembered when we had a fish tank for several years and it stayed cleaner when we didn’t clean it. Seriously, it reached a point of homeostasis and the water stayed crystal clear with just the filter running and one small bottom cleaner.
When I called Water’s Choice phone number, I left a message. The owner called me back within the hour, and spent 35 minutes answering all my questions. There was no sales pressure. He didn’t have a sales pitch. It was me asking and him answering very patiently. He understood that my swimming pool is sort of in between a swimming pool and a spa, partly because of it’s size, partly because I heat it more than the average pool, and partly because it is semi-indoors.
Now, I have the recommended 3 bottles of starter on my kitchen table, which came within 2 days of ordering them online. It was easier than coordinating pick up since the owner of this home based business was out of tow; and also getting to a retailer 45 minutes from my house, to a part of town I have no other need to go to. The “water polish” was on my doorstep in 2 business days.
I could have started the transition to this new system with the water that is already in the pool, but there are advantages to draining out the current water first, so that is what my husband is going to help me do next weekend. It will mean I don’t have to second guess whether or not there are any residual chloramines.
Meanwhile, after 4 days, my skin irritation is finally noticeably abated. I no longer look like I’m dying of some weird science fiction plague. Thankfully, it was never on my face! Although it was beginning to creep up my neck. It is not all the way healed, but it is definitely not as itchy or red splotchy-spotted. I have hope that it will be gone by the time the pool is refilled and reheated in a week. I didn’t want to get into any new swimming pool-water mixture until I was completely healed, as there is always more risk of other irritation if the skin is already compromised. I don’t think almost 2 weeks of not swimming is going to set back my training too much, and I expect to proceed with my triathlon training and post-run relaxing swims soon. I will definitely keep you posted on the new enzymatic water cleaning method.