Last of the Water Babies?

Advocates of infant swimming have complied long lists of benefits ranging from the development of self-esteem, confidence and independence to increased intelligence, concentration and perceptual abilities.

It therefore comes as something of a blow that new research suggests that children who start swimming before the age of 2 may be at increased risk of a common infant lung infection, asthma and respiratory allergies.

The findings, reported in the European Respiratory Journal, conclude that exposure to chlorinated pools may affect children’s respiratory health, particularly if they have a family history of asthma or respiratory allergies.  Researchers found that infant swimming, whether in indoor or outdoor pools, was linked to a heightened risk of the lung infection – bronchiolitis.

The study of 430 pre-schoolers showed that infant swimmers who developed the infection were at increased risk of developing asthma or respiratory allergies by kindergarten.

The reason, say researchers, is that chlorine byproducts irritate the airways and make babies more vulnerable to bronchiolitis.

Leading US allergy specialist Allan Luskin MD agrees, “These findings are another example of gene-environment interaction.  Early swimming in chlorinated pools can be added to other “co-factors” for asthma development such as tobacco smoke exposure, automobile pollution and high ozone levels”.

Luskin’s colleague Don Bukstein MD adds, “This data should encourage public and private pool operators to consider alternative water disinfectant methods such as saline or ozone”.

Will you still let your baby swim?  Word on Health wants to know what you think.