Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lifeguard Lung: Implications for Lifeguards: Your Lifeguards Have Been on Duty at Your Indoor Aquatic Facility for the Last Several Months

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lifeguard Lung: Implications for Lifeguards: Your Lifeguards Have Been on Duty at Your Indoor Aquatic Facility for the Last Several Months

Article excerpt

Lifeguard lung: implications for lifeguards: your lifeguards have been on duty at your indoor aquatic facility for the last several months. Recently, several have noticed eye irritation, headaches, chest tightness, occasional coughing, and increasing shortness of breath with activity. It seems to start shortly after they enter the pool area and resolves only after being away from work for an extended period of time. Some also seem more tired and have difficulty concentrating, especially when on duty. Several have consulted their doctors and nothing wrong was found. General advice has been to cut back on strenuous activities. However, when away from lifeguarding for. (Aquatics)

several days, your guards feel like their old selves, again. Is this some crazy infection? Is it all in their heads? Or, is this Lifeguard Lung?

Lifeguard Lung (LGL) is a type of sick building syndrome occurring in some indoor aquatic facilities. Irritants in the air trigger an immune response in some individuals. This response is medically referred to as hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), an inflammation of the lungs due to an immune response. Under the right conditions, all aquatic staff and participants are potentially susceptible. Repeated exposure to improper/inadequate ventilated air, improper/inadequate water quality, and aerosolization, such as is found in indoor leisure park facilities, can contribute to triggering this response. Repeated exposures eventually cause granulomatous pneumonitis, the development of scarring in the large airways (trachea and bronchi). This is a nonreversible condition.

Dr. Cecile Rose, MD, an occupational medicine physician in Denver, CO identified this condition in 1989 after evaluating a number of symptomatic lifeguards employed at the same indoor waterpark. Symptoms were first noticed in 1986 and included wheezing, cough, shortness of breath especially with exertion, eye irritation, headache, fever/chills, muscle aches, and problems concentrating. Not all lifeguards were affected. In those who were affected, some, but not necessarily all, of the symptoms were present (Rose, 1998). Symptoms would begin as late as 24 hours following a guard shift and usually disappeared by the next day. There did not appear to be any correlation with whether or not an individual smoked, had allergies, or asthma (Rose, 1998).

Physical exams did not reveal any specific findings. Although a few individuals did have abnormal lung sounds and chest x-rays, most findings were totally normal. Lung function tests were also completely normal. One significant abnormality which was discovered in affected individuals was a marked drop in blood oxygen level during exercise. The other significant finding was scar tissue formation found on biopsies of symptomatic individuals' large airways (Rose, 1998).


LGL is a common phenomenon which, until recently, has largely gone unrecognized by both aquatic supervisory personnel and medical providers. It is triggered by repeated inhalation of organic material such as fungi spores, which are often found in humid environments, and animal and bacterial proteins, including deactivated microbes and parasites. Active chemicals such as organic chloramines, formed when free chlorine reacts with sweat, urine, and other waste products introduced by pool patrons, are also implicated (Ando, 1999).

Aerosolization from leisure park spray devices such as slides, geysers, waterfalls, flumes, and play structures, as well as from patron splashing, dissipate the organic stimuli into the air and water where they are carried by ventilation and water circulation systems. Endotoxins, immune system-stimulating proteins produced by cell walls of killed bacteria, may also be present and are capable of stimulating an immune response and subsequently, LGL (Skaros, 2001).

Indoor air quality is the result of pool sanitation/oxidation systems, hydraulic systems, water temperatures (usually elevated in the indoor setting), and patron-to-water volume ratios (Osinski, 1997). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.