American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Make a Splash with Water Safety

Father and son swimmingWhen the weather heats up, nothing sounds better than a swim to cool off. But before you take that dip into the deep end, make sure you’re aware of common swimming hazards and the best safeguards. Ronald V. Marino, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from Mineola, New York, discusses these hazards and provides tips to help minimize your and your family’s potential risk of injury and illness at the pool or lake this summer. 

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help prevent injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

Awareness of Recreational Water Illness

The water you swim in could be more dangerous than you think. There could be germs lurking beneath the surface. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the last decade, the number of illnesses resulting from a swim in unclean water has increased, with children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems at particular risk of developing severe illnesses, if infected.

How can you avoid becoming a statistic? “A key step to staying water-safe this summer is being aware of recreational water illnesses, which can be caused by swallowing, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans,” explains Dr. Marino. “The germs in the water can cause a wide variety of serious conditions, including skin, ear, eye, respiratory, wound infections or gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea,” he adds. 

Safeguards Against Infection

How can you stay protected? “People with weakened immune systems should consult their physician before participating in water activities,” advises Dr. Marino.  While it may be difficult to prevent the spread of germs in the pool, there are some steps that you can take to limit your exposure. Dr. Marino recommends the following preventive measures for all swimmers: 

  • Shower with soap before you start swimming.

  • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area, instead of poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes.

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea.

  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers.

  • Avoid getting swimming water in your mouth.

  • Avoid swimming in oceans, lakes or rivers after a heavy rain, as water is likely to be polluted after storms.

“Most importantly, swim only at reputable, well maintained facilities and be aware of public health alerts regarding open waters, especially after heavy rains, whenever possible,” says Dr. Marino. 

Children's Swim Safety

Everyone, especially parents, should be mindful of another major hazard: the risk of drowning, one of the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths among children. “An accident can happen in the blink of an eye,” says Dr. Marino.  A majority of people think that most drowning cases involve loud splashing sounds. “In most incidents, that is not necessarily the case. Typically, drowning is a silent event and someone can go underwater in less than 10 seconds,” says Dr. Marino. “Children will rarely scream, call out or splash for help,” he continues. “Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them quickly and find out why.”

To help prevent a drowning incident, Dr. Marino encourages parents to learn CPR and to enroll their children at an early age in a swim class taught by a qualified instructor. Regardless of whether or not they can swim, he also recommends placing them in a life jacket when they are participating in water sports or playing near open water. He advises parents or caregivers to keep a constant eye and maintain close enough contact to touch infants, toddlers and non-swimmers when they are in or near the water. According to Dr. Marino, most drowning incidents happen during a brief lapse in supervision. He warns parents not to assume that their children can only drown in large bodies of water. “There are water hazards in and around every home. Children can drown in just a few inches of liquid— in a pond, five-gallon bucket or the toilet bowl,” he says.

To avoid an accident, Dr. Marino recommends installing fences, covers and/or alarms around unused pools; avoiding leaving buckets or barrels where they can gather water; and keeping children out of the bathroom except when directly supervised. Following a swim, Dr. Marino also advises every caregiver to monitor children for any unusual signs of accidental water ingestion, such as forceful coughing more than a minute right after coming out of the water, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue and changes in behavior. “If you notice any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention to determine the seriousness of the condition,” he says.

Staying Healthy In and Out of the Water  

Swimming is a great way for the entire family to stay active and cool in the warmer months. “While there are a few risks involved, with the right precautions and oversight, the pool or any body of water doesn’t have to be a danger zone,” says Dr. Marino. “Implementing safety measures into your routine is a good way to maintain your family’s safety and health."