Stay safe at the pool and the beach

A day at the beach or the pool should be fun and carefree. You'd like to be able to bury your worries beneath the sand, slip on your swimsuit, and jump right in. But when you dip your toes in public waters, you expose yourself to all sorts of potential health hazards. A bit of care and caution is all it takes to enjoy a safe day in the sand and surf.

What do you do in the water?

Accidental drowning is the most obvious safety hazard around water. At a pool or major beach swimming area, you may have the added security of trained lifeguards, but you should still keep your (sunglass-covered) eyes peeled. And you should always adhere to any signs posted by the open water or pool – they are there for everybody's safety.

  • Be on guard. Reduce risk by supervising young or inexperienced swimmers. Swim lessons can boost the skills and confidence of children and adults alike.
  • Go with the float. Life jackets and other kinds of flotation devices buoy inexperienced or unconfident swimmers.
  • Avoid troubled waters. Watch out for possible danger zones in open waters – undertows and rip currents, tangles of seaweed that could wrap around your ankles, or sudden drops in depth can surprise even the strongest swimmers. Be cautious of wildlife in the area, too. Sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, or other creatures pose threats to swimmers.
  • Booze off. Much as you'd love to sip a frosty daiquiri as you float along, water and alcohol don't mix well. Alcohol impairs motor function and judgment – two faculties you need intact whether you're wading or jet-skiing, paddling or hanging your feet from the side of a pontoon boat.

What's in the water?

Depending on what sort of waters you plunge into – chlorinated or natural, salty or fresh – you're bound to pass through some stuff that's not too healthy. Open, natural waters can be home to many kinds of microbes. Public pools can harbour bacteria such as Giardia lamblia and Campylobacter, and protozoa like diarrhea-causing Cryptosporidium. Harsh chemicals (e.g., chlorine) meant to keep the pool cleaner can actually irritate the skin and lungs. Though it's less likely in a well-maintained pool, bacteria, viruses, and fungus can all survive even in chlorinated waters.

  • Don't drink the water. In both natural areas and in outdoor pools, water can be teemed with traces of human and animal fecal matter and lots of chemicals and other yucky stuff you'd rather not be drinking. It's not like people sip pool water to quench a thirst; it just happens sometimes.
  • Teach your children well. Kids gulp down more water than adults as they swim, so talk to your child about the importance of keeping their lips sealed as they swim.
  • Swim safely in the ool. Note how there was no "p" in pool? It should stay that way, but too often urine finds its way into pool and open water.
  • Be easy on the ears. Water can flow into your ear and get trapped inside the ear canal. When this happens, a painful infection called swimmer's ear can result. Bacteria from unclean water could make this kind of infection more likely. Rather than using cotton swabs to clear out water, you can use a blow dryer set on low while you’re drying your hair.
  • Use your best judgment. Unsafe or unsanitary waters should be marked with warning signs. If you're unsure about the safety of a swimming area, it's best to stay out of the water.

And this sun, sand, and surf tip cannot be mentioned too often: always protect your eyes and skin from sun damage. Wear UV-shielding sunglasses and slather on sunscreen with an adequate sun protection factor (SPF), reapplying as necessary and every time you get out of the water.

Amy Toffelmire

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