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Swimming Hazards Can Hamper Summer Fun
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As the weather heats up, the cool water of swimming pools will come alive with summer activity, but along with the fun and relaxation come risks that should be considered first.
"About 43,000 people are injured in and around swimming pools each year," said Linda Patterson, health education specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 260 children under 5 years of age drown each year in residential swimming pools and spas. Another 3,000 children under age 5 are treated in hospitals following submersion accidents each year.
"A young child is by nature inquisitive, and water offers exciting possibilities," Patterson said. "The natural curiosity of the child together with the attractions of water can be a very dangerous combination."
Pools with covers can hold someone under water and pools that have been drained can collect enough rain water to cause a drowning. A child can drown in only a few inches of water within minutes.
"Even if children aren't interested in learning to swim, they should learn the basics of floating and diving," Patterson said. "Lessons shouldn't be delayed. Instructors say that children as young as 3 years old should take lessons on floating."
Patterson said children who cannot swim should wear properly fitting life vests when they play with toys near a pool or lake in case they accidentally fall in the water.
Tips that make pools more enjoyable and safe include:
- Be sure all pool users know how to swim, and beginning swimmers should be well-supervised and stay in shallow water.
- Never swim alone.
- Keep electrical devices, such as radios, away from pools and wet surfaces.
- Check the pool area regularly for glass or other hazards.
- Warn children about pool filters, as the suction may injure them or prevent them from surfacing.
- Completely fence the pool, and install self-closing and self-latching gates.
- Remove the pool cover completely or attach the cover firmly.
- Keep a throwing rope, long pole and life ring easily accessible.
- Properly light pools that are open after sunset.
- Keep a telephone near the pool with a list of important telephone numbers.
- Clean the pool and test water quality regularly.
Although it is less severe than drowning, another risk involved with swimming is swimmer's ear. This condition is often caused by a bacterial infection of the outer ear, and it may affect adults and children.
"Children will often complain that their ears are itchy," Patterson said. "They may also tug on the ear, which will cause more pain. These conditions may indicate an inflamation of the outer ear and canal, such as swimmer's ear."
The urge to scratch inside the ear is tempting but must be resisted. Scratching inside the ear could injure the eardrum.
Patterson said the best way to reduce the risk of swimmer's ear is to carefully drain each ear of water after swimming. Turn the head to each side and wait for all of the water to come out.
"People who are prone to swimmer's ear may rinse their ears with over-the-counter swimmer's ear drops," Patterson said. "It is especially important to rinse lake water out of your ears if swimming in a lake because the chemicals in most swimming pools take care of the bacteria that may be present elsewhere."
Proper use of pool chemicals will decrease the risk of spreading diseases or bacteria, but take precautions when working with pool chemicals. These chemicals may cause upper respiratory problems, coughing, sneezing and eye irritation.
"From April to October, our Poison Control Center gets about five to 10 calls about pool chemicals," said Michael Hughes, managing director of the Mississippi Regional Poison Control Center in Jackson. "The problem usually occurs when a person opens the container of chemicals and inhales dust or fumes."
In 1997, the nation had no deaths reported from pool chemicals, but there were more than 7,000 reports of exposure to pool chemicals. Most of the reported cases were minor, but some required major medical care.
"Respiratory problems and other irritations associated with chemicals may be worse if you are predisposed to upper respiratory illnesses such as asthma," Hughes said.
In case of contact with pool chemicals, call the Poison Control Center hotline 24 hours a day at (601) 354-7660.