If the London Olympics doesn't motivate you to plunge into a pool this summer, the simple lure of a refreshing and fun way to exercise just might do the trick. In addition to these benefits, be aware that pools also have a dark side that can be sickening, painful and even fatal.
With the growing popularity of pools, drowning has become the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4. Additionally, unclean or untreated pools can be a source for water-related illnesses that infect the skin, ear, respiratory system, eye and, most commonly, gastrointestinal system. With more people taking an interest in swimming, exposure to water-related illnesses is likely to continue.
At the public pool
What can we do to reduce swim and water related illnesses? First, never swallow pool water, which may contain chemicals and germs. Remember to use the shower and restroom before swimming. If you get the urge, do not go in the pool. The most common reason for public pool closures is improper chemical levels. Chlorine is effective at killing germs if kept at a minimum of 1.5ppm. The pool's pH level (keep between 7.2 and 8) is just as important for balancing chlorine's germ-killing ability, while minimizing eye and skin irritation.
The amount of chlorine in a pool can be reduced by sunlight, debris and other unwanted material.
Therefore, chemical levels should be checked at least daily when the pool is open.
At the home
Maintaining chemical balance can be difficult. If you have trouble understanding the challenges of water chemistry, ask for help at a pool shop or from a pool service company. If you or someone else becomes ill after swimming, seek help and contact your health care provider.
Physical hazards in and around the pool also pose a risk. You should have approved fencing designed to prevent unsupervised children from using the pool or accidentally falling in. Fencing, however, does have its limitations. Some kids may still find a way through a pool fence, which is why you should discuss the dangers of unattended swimming with your children.
Adequate supervision is necessary to providing a safer swim environment. Drowning can be silent and you'll need to act fast if someone begins to suffocate. For this reason, you should learn CPR and enroll your kids in swimming lessons.
The powerful suction from a pool or spa drain can trap someone underwater and cause severe injury or drowning. Don't play with the pool drain and avoid pools with broken or missing drain covers. In fact, state law has specific pool drain requirements to prevent drowning in public pools.
Spinal injuries from diving are even more common than drain entrapments. You should never dive into the shallow end of a pool or take a running start. Inexperienced swimmers should avoid head-first diving. Do not use a diving board that might be broken or unstable.
Although rare, electrical hazards are among the most dangerous. Proper installation of special electrical equipment called GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) can significantly reduce the risk of electrocution.
For more information on creating safer swimming pool environments, visit www.cchealth.org/eh/recreational_health/
Backyard swimming was intended as a healthy activity and source of enjoyment—and it should remain that way.
Mr. Ancheta is a Registered Environmental Health Specialist who specializes in pool and spa safety.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.