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August 8, 2018

Swimming Concerns

It is time to get out and go swimming, safely! Summer is a great time to enjoy being outdoors. Swimming is a common summertime activity, and it is a good way to be physically active.

Enjoy the Water Safely!

It is time to get out and go swimming, safely!

Summer is a great time to enjoy being outdoors. Swimming is a common summertime activity, and it is a good way to be physically active. There are some potential health hazards while swimming that generally can be avoided by taking precautions while enjoying the water.

Swimming is an acquired skill. Learning to swim at a young age can be lifesaving if someone ends up in the water unintentionally. Swimming lessons are offered for children so they can learn to swim even if their parents don’t know how.

Toddlers and young children need close supervision around pools or lakes. Except for birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death in children one to four years old. Pools that are fenced have less chance of young children falling in. Currently, there are life jackets and floating devices available that are comfortable and effective, and help reduce the chance of drowning. Pools with bottom drains can be dangerous; recent stories have sadly shown children caught in the suction of the drain by their hair or a body part and unable to get free. The best way to prevent a child from drowning is to closely supervise them around water.

Adult drownings are less common, but risk increases when people are using alcohol or drugs and spending time in the water. Wearing life jackets is very important since someone who is injured may not be able to swim even if they know how. Drivers of watercraft should be experienced and attentive.

Another factor that can be a concern while swimming is the quality of the water that people are playing in. Pools should be treated to maintain water safety. Most pools are treated with chlorine to a concentration of 1-3 ppm and a pH of 7.2-7.6. Parents should be courteous and attentive of toddlers to try to prevent relieving themselves in the water. If a child is known to have diarrhea, they should not go in the water. Viruses, parasites, and bacteria that cause illness can easily be spread to others in the water. Taking regular bathroom breaks and checking swim diapers frequently is recommended. Showering before entering a pool also helps maintain water quality. Most public beaches are monitored for bacteria levels that might be unsafe for swimming.

Another common health concern is the effects of sun exposure. Sunburns can be painful, cause people to feel ill, and are a risk factor for developing skin cancer. Covering the skin with clothing or sun block is advisable. Reapplying sunblock throughout the day is a good practice.

Swimmer’s ear is another common ailment during the swim season. The ear canal normally has a small amount of waxy discharge and is not normally wet. Frequent swimming can lead to water sitting in the ear in contact with debris, which is a perfect environment for bacteria or fungi to grow. This can cause pain and swelling of the ear canal resulting in tenderness to touch and decreased hearing. Generally swimmer’s ear is treated with medicated drops. The incidence can be reduced by carefully drying the ears after swimming and using drops such as Swim Ear, a common OTC product that contains some alcohol, which helps dry the canal.

Swimming is a great way to be physically active. Be safe while enjoying the water and stay healthy, my friends.

Michael Shattuck, MD, is an emergency department physician at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin.