Practical Pool Safety Tips
It seems when the mercury rises, everyone flocks to the pool for a refreshing splash. While hanging out poolside is a great way to cool off and beat the heat, an emergency situation can arise in an instant.
Glenn Hardesty, D.O., emergency medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial, says there are many things adults and children should be aware of as they spend time around the water this summer.
“I am hyper-vigilant about a couple of things because we see people getting hurt so often,” he says. “Diving can be so dangerous. I can’t tell you how many people hit their heads on the bottom of the pool and end up a paraplegic or quadriplegic. Also, kids running around the pool or doing flips off the side can hit their heads really easily.
“Swimming alone, for either kids or adults, is never a good idea. Oftentimes when someone drowns, we’ll find out later that they actually had a medical emergency and somehow became unconscious before drowning. If you’re swimming by yourself and have some kind of medical event, there’s nobody there to help get you out.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people die each day from unintentional drowning, including two children ages 14 or younger. For every child who drowns, five more visit the emergency room for non-fatal submersion injuries. Additionally, more than half of drowning victims treated in the ER require further hospitalization or further treatment due to severe brain damage and long-term disability.
Hardesty says one of most important things parents can do is protect children who can’t swim.
“Use pool alarms if possible and put children who can’t swim or aren’t strong swimmers in a U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device at all costs,” he recommends. “I’ve never worked a code on a child that had a life jacket on when they arrived in the ER department. Just be careful about flotation belts because kids can get top-heavy and won’t be able to right themselves if they get flipped upside down. You just can’t ever underestimate how quickly kids can get away from you.”
In addition to protecting children with flotation devices, Hardesty recommends that every child be taught to swim.
“Exposure to the water is important to kids so they know how to get themselves out if they fall in, especially in apartment complexes,” he says. “There are cultural differences and certain demographics where you see kids aren’t exposed to the water much. Then they get in the pool and have never been taught to swim, so that’s obviously a very dangerous place to be.”
Hardesty provides several quick tips to remember in practicing pool safety this summer:
- Beware of sun exposure, especially if you’re on medications that can cause photosensitivity. Wear sunscreen and swimming suits or clothing with UV protection. (We had a patient once who was on antibiotics and came into the ER wearing only a sheet. She’d been skinny dipping with her friends all day and was severely burned.)
- Don’t let kids run around the pool. We see a ton of injuries from that.
- Something people don’t think about much is pool chemicals, which can be very harmful to children, so proper storage is important.
- Don’t jump off the roof into the pool—ever. And remember, trampolines, roofs and swimming pools do not mix in any combination.
- Water guns are getting a lot more powerful, so keep kids safe from potential eye injuries.
- Think about things that might be “sharing” the pool with you—like water moccasins. Last year we had two patients bitten by snakes when cleaning leaves out of their pool filters.
- If you’re allergic to bees, be careful around the pool. People tend to leave food and drinks around, which will attract bees.
- Be sure everybody knows the variations in the pool depth. Children can go from a very shallow wading area to a three-foot depth very rapidly (especially if there’s a drop-off) or go down the slide into deep water and get into trouble quickly. You just can’t turn your back on non-swimmers for a second.
- Beware that bacteria and pathogens can be spread in even chlorine-treated water, especially if young children are present. (Read up on the CDC’s information on recreational water illnesses.)
In addition to pool safety, Hardesty mentions a few tips for North Texans who spend time in and around the many lakes in the area.
“You have to be very careful diving, as our lakes in Texas are notoriously murky and stumpy,” he says. “Once people go below the waterline in that type of water, it’s very hard to find them. If you or your children don’t swim or aren’t strong swimmers, wear a life jacket and keep it on. Glass is another big concern, as lots of people walk in the water without water shoes and end up cutting their feet. And of course, don’t forget you’re sharing the lake with all kinds of critters.”
Spending the afternoon poolside can go from fun to dangerous in a heartbeat, but the two things that will keep everyone safe are a little knowledge and a lot of common sense.
“For children or adults who don’t swim well, take lessons and learn to swim,” Hardesty says. “My best advice is to increase your exposure to the water and get comfortable in it. Really, the best thing to have around the pool is common sense…nothing replaces common sense.”
For parents interested in having their children evaluated by certified swimming instructor, advance registration is required. Evaluations will be held every 15 minutes and participating children should bring a swimsuit, towel and flotation device. For more information or to register, call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).