Asthma Risk Higher For
Infants Who Swim Indoors
If taking your infant to swim class
seems like a fun way of bonding-with-baby, you might want to think
twice about the idea.
That's because a new European study
has found that infants who were regularly exposed to the chlorinated
air of indoor swimming pools were more at risk for developing
asthma than were infants who didn't swim indoors.
"Our data suggest that infant swimming practice in chlorinated
indoor swimming pools is associated with airway changes that,
along with other factors, seem to predispose children to the development
of asthma and recurrent bronchitis," wrote the Belgian researchers.
They also found the effect was stronger for babies who swam indoors
and were also exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.
The findings appear in the June issue of Pediatrics.
The researchers surveyed 341 schoolchildren from Brussels and
their parents. At the time the study began, the youngsters were
between the ages of 10 and 13. The children and their parents
were asked about their asthma status, other environmental exposures,
and whether or not they had gone to indoor swimming pools as infants.
Forty-three children from that group had regularly been to indoor
swimming pools in their infancy, according to the study. The children
had to have had at least 2.5 cumulative hours on indoor pool exposure
to be included in this smaller group.
Blood samples were taken from the children to measure markers
of lung health, and average air sample tests were obtained from
the pools the youngsters visited.
The researchers found that children who went swimming indoors
as infants were 50 percent more likely to report wheezing, almost
four times as likely to experience chest tightness, and had more
than double the risk of experiencing shortness of breath, compared
to the children who hadn't been regular swimmers as infants.
The study also found that exposure to passive smoke alone didn't
seem to increase a child's risk of asthma, but when coupled
with indoor swimming, the risk of developing lung problems was
The study authors suggest that the risk might be higher because
exposure to chemicals, such as chlorine, may alter the lining
of the lungs, predisposing youngsters to airway disease.
Does that mean you can't ever take your baby swimming?
"It certainly makes us reconsider taking these young kids
swimming if it may be detrimental to lung development," said
Dr. Alan Khadavi, a pediatric asthma specialist at New York University
Medical Center in New York City. "But it's a small study,
so I think it's too soon to tell parents that they can't
take kids swimming. It's something to think about, but there's
no direct link at this point."
While disinfection of swimming pools with chlorine is essential
for safe swimming, study author Alfred Bernard, the research director
of the National Fund for Scientific Research in Belgium, said
that parents and pool managers should be aware that chlorine-based
disinfectants can be used safely only if their levels are maintained
in an optimal range which allows the chlorine to minimize infections
without increasing the risk of toxicity.
"If levels are too low, infectious risks can increase, and
if levels are too high, it is the toxic risks that can increase.
Hence, the importance of hygiene and of carefully controlling
the pH of the water to minimize the amount of chlorine needed
for disinfection. Chlorine should not replace water filtration
and hygiene to achieve a clear and blue water. Chlorine should
only be used as a disinfectant and not a cleaning agent,"
"If [swimming] is a regular activity, I can only recommend
parents don't take their baby in poorly managed pools where
water and air contain excessive levels of chlorine. Such pools
can be identified by the very strong chlorine smell in the air
or at their surface as well as by the irritating effects on the
eyes or upper respiratory tract that one may feel after swimming.
If it is [your] own pool, parents should avoid over-chlorinating
the water," he added.
"It is important to realize that studies on the safety of
these chemicals for young children have started only recently.
Thus, another cautious attitude for babies is not to leave them
too much time in the water," Bernard said.
He also recommended that kids should swim no more than 20 minutes
and that parents should discourage infants and young children
from drinking pool water.