When it’s hot and sticky in the summertime, there’s nothing like a dip in the pool or a trip to the beach to cool you down. And since histamine intolerance often causes heat intolerance, a plunge in some cool water is especially inviting. However, what lies beneath those sparkling blue waters may cause us to hesitate. Human contaminants (pee, poop) and chemical additives like chlorine may set off a variety of symptoms or result in illness. The general term for this, as used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, is Recreational Water Illness. Here’s what you need to know.
HUMAN WASTE IN THE WATER
Most of us know that babies and children have a tendency to pee or defecate in the water, but adults do it, too. And even if that’s not the case, water can easily just rinse the germs from someone’s backside, putting it into the surrounding water. You can see how this easily happens with babies and children who are in diapers.
While we don’t like to think about these things when going for a carefree afternoon at the pool or beach, it’s important to take into consideration when you’re already in an over-reactive state. These human contaminants are full of bacteria and toxins that can definitely cause histamine reactions. Germs can be spread simply by having contaminated water touch your skin, in addition to swallowing the water, or breathing in the vapor.
Infections that occur as a result of exposure can cause digestive symptoms, itchy skin, rashes, breathing difficulties, even hives — all symptoms that happen to have histamine associations. The germs behind these infections can be anything from Cryptosporidium to giardia, Shigella, norovirus, or even E. coli. Yuck.
Chlorine is like any other chemical that can aggravate histamine intolerance. Studies have shown that exposure to chlorine can increase allergic inflammation, making your reactions worse. However, it’s interesting to note that another study found that while chlorine did worsen allergies (allergic rhinitis), it was not by way of mast cell activation but by some other pathway. Still, a “chlorine allergy” is a relatively common thing, with symptoms
It’s also interesting that the addition of a chemical used in tap water chlorination, dichlorophenol (and found in urine), is associated with an increased risk of food allergies. So this chemical is definitely making us more sensitive to the environment in one way or another. And dichlorophenol is found in all kinds of personal care products, including Colgate toothpaste, so you could be sensitising yourself every day.
TO SWIM OR NOT TO SWIM? WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Depending on your sensitivity, it may still be fine to swim. Just be sure not to swallow the water and practice good swimmer hygiene, such as showering with soap before and after your time in the water. Pay attention to your histamine/inflammation “bucket.” How are your stress levels? What did you eat in the last few days? How are your symptoms on this particular day that you’d like to head to the beach or pool? If stress seems to be under control, food choices are good, and you don’t have other histamine-aggravating factors going on, don’t worry so much about spending time in the water. It’s all about balance, and so long as you don’t throw yourself out of balance by other poor choices (food, work, busy-ness, exposure to chemicals), you may be able to handle the small exposure to chlorine or potential bacteria.
BE AWARE THAT SALT WATER POOLS MAY BE CHLORINATED
Double check with the owner. There are systems that allow people to sanitise without chlorine, but never assume.
Definitely some downsides: the unrelenting heat, sunburn, overcrowding. I tend to go to the beach at 4 or 5pm when people start thinning out and the sun is less challenging. In California I go to the beach as late as 6pm (but I don’t swim there – too cold for me!). There’s nothing on this planet that soothes my mast cells and mind like floating in salty water, letting the waves caress my stress away.
Take an umbrella and a really thick large towel so you don’t feel the heat from the sand.
Fill an empty spray bottle and spritz yourself regularly.
If you don’t tolerate sun protection, check out UV filtering hats and clothing. Make sure to wear really large sunglasses and a large floppy hat under the umbrella.
Bring plenty of water and a cooler if possible.
If going swimming, take a really long time to acclimate to the water. My mast cells personally don’t care for sudden temperature changes.
HISTAMINE BUCKET FULL?
When you’re reacting to everything and can’t enjoy the things you used to love… can’t swim, can’t go in the sun, can’t eat anything… it’s time to start getting your histamine levels under control. Here’s an exact blueprint and four-week histamine reset to take the stress out of healing histamine.
Kim, S.-H., Park, D.-E., Lee, H.-S., Kang, H.-R., & Cho, S.-H. (2014). Chronic Low Dose Chlorine Exposure Aggravates Allergic Inflammation and Airway Hyperresponsiveness and Activates Inflammasome Pathway. PLoS ONE, 9(9), e106861. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0106861
Shusterman, D., Balmes, J., Avila, P. C., Murphy, M. A., & Matovinovic, E. (2003).
Chlorine inhalation produces nasal congestion in allergic rhinitics without mast cell degranulation. European Respiratory Journal, 21(4) 652-657; DOI: 10.1183/09031936.03.00049102