We all love being at the pool or beach on a summer day. Unfortunately, it’s not always the healthiest place to be. Over the last two decades, there’s been a substantial increase in the number of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) across the nation. RWIs are caused by germs that people come into contact with at swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, as well as lakes, rivers, and oceans. RWIs can also be caused by chemicals in the water. However, most RWIs are caused by fecal bacteria, and it takes only a small amount to contaminate an entire pool and make people ill.
Diarrhea is the most common illness that results from swallowing untreated or undertreated pool water. Rashes and ear infections can also be caused by germs in the water. Children are very susceptible to getting RWIs as they spend a lot of time in the water during the summer months. Keep in mind that symptoms do not always appear right away. Although chemical rashes may appear in 30 minutes, bacterial rashes and gastroenteritis usually take more than 24 hours to develop.
Here’s some tips to help you avoid RWIs and stop their spread:
- Always shower before swimming
- Remind children not to swallow or drink pool water
- Take bathroom breaks and rinse off before going back into the water
- Change swim diapers often and away from the water
You can prevent ear infections (swimmer’s ear) by drying your ears thoroughly each time you go swimming with a towel (or even a hair dryer). If you experience ear pain after swimming and think you may have an infection, see a medical provider.
Be aware of chlorine sensitivity
Chlorine is used to eliminate germs in the water, but many people are sensitive to the effects of chlorine. Symptoms of chlorine sensitivity include red eyes, coughing, breathing problems, wheezing, nasal congestion, itchy skin and also tightness in the chest. Showering after swimming can help alleviate mild symptoms, but you should seek immediate care for severe reactions. If your children are experiencing problems with chlorine sensitivity, talk to your pediatrician as there are medications that can help.
Always look twice before jumping in
The best way to protect yourself against RWIs is by keeping a close eye on the water. Pools should not have foamy, cloudy or off-colored water, and should be free of slimy surfaces. All these conditions are clear warning signs of RWIs, which are usually caused by improper pool or water park maintenance. So if the water doesn’t look clean, clear and healthy, you may want to reconsider swimming there. Remember, you can always cool off with a sprinkler in the backyard if the pool doesn’t look right.