The weather is getting hotter and the thought of finding some relief in a lake, creek, swimming pool or even the ocean is definitely tempting this time of year. But before you take the plunge, here are some tips that can help keep you and those you care about safe.
The safest place to swim, of course, is where a lifeguard is supervising, if possible.
Supervision is crucial; don’t swim alone
The biggest danger one faces when swimming is the possibility of drowning. It’s always best to swim with someone else because even strong swimmers can become fatigued. There is definitely safety in numbers. It isn’t a good idea to swim alone.
It’s important to be cautious when children are around water, even shallow water. Make sure you constantly supervise children and teach them to ask for permission before they go near water. Drowning can happen quickly, so if you are responsible for a child’s safety, don’t let things such as a phone, tablet computer or reading a book distract you from keeping them safe.
Life vests and knowing conditions are important
Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in the water. While this is an important part of staying safe, the American Red Cross says you should not rely on life jackets alone. Monitoring swimmers is also important. While pool toys can be used for fun, they are not a good substitute for a Coast Guard certified life jacket.
If you are planning to swim in a lake, river or ocean, be sure to watch the water flow. A strong, swift flow or current can make swimming dangerous. The Brazos River Authority lists information about the water flow rate at points in the Brazos basin via links to USGS gaging stations here.
Also, be sure to check the weather before swimming. A bright sunny day can sometimes become a stormy day, so it’s best to check the forecast and see what is expected. Get out of the water if you hear thunder or see lightning.
Other tips for staying safe, healthy
You can increase your safety and the safety of those you care about by making sure they know how to swim. Age-appropriate swim courses are offered by most YMCA locations. It’s also a good idea to learn CPR, which is also offered through your local Y.
Protecting your skin with water-resistant sunscreen, and making sure you prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water in hot weather is also important. Waterproof sunscreen should have a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. You should reapply sunscreen every couple of hours after swimming or sweating.
Healthfinder.gov, a website of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, warns people not to consume alcohol when swimming. Staying hydrated by drinking water while out in the sun contributes to overall health and alertness when in the water.
Healthfinder.gov urges swimmers to try to avoid getting surface water in their mouths, as naturally occurring bacteria are always present. Other recommendations: Make sure everyone is clean before swimming (especially if using a pool). Shower with soap and wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Also, take your kids on bathroom breaks frequently so they do not have accidents while in the water.
Beware of waterborne organisms
Another point to be aware of when swimming is the presence of rare but potentially deadly organisms in rivers, lakes or ponds. Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare disease caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba found in almost all untreated, fresh surface water and in soil. The amoeba thrives in low levels of freshwater that is warmer than 80 degrees and stagnant or slow-moving.
A person is infected when water is forced up the nasal passages, and the amoeba works to destroy brain tissue. Symptoms of the infection include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, seizures and hallucinations as the condition worsens. Although PAM is rare, those infected usually succumb to the disease within a week.
The best way to help prevent infection is to use nose clips. People can also hold their noses when jumping in the water, but the nose clips are certainly an added level of security. For more on PAM and other waterborne illnesses, click here.
Swimming is a great way to cool off during the sizzling days of summer, but putting safety first will make the experience even better.
For more safety tips, visit the Red Cross here or Safe Kids here.