Swim Safety Tips for Families

Swimming is a summer pastime that helps us enjoy the sunshine and stay physically active. It’s great for the whole family, as introducing kids to water early can build a life-long interest in this form of exercise. But water activities do come with some risks for swimmers of all ages. Here are some tips for keeping your family safe around the water.

Keep Babies Safe

Talk with your pediatrician about when your baby may be ready to swim before getting them into the water. Young babies cannot regulate body temperature and have developing immune systems, which puts them at risk for hypothermia and contracting diseases or infections from potentially unclean pool water.

When your baby is ready to swim, be sure to protect them with a life jacket specially made for babies to offer full body and neck support. This ensures that your baby will not be fully submerged under water. Introduce your baby to water in short increments of time to see how they tolerate it. If they enjoy the water, slowly increase the amount of time spent in the water.

Make Sure Kids Are Supervised

More than 90% of drowning incidents with children involve a lack of adult supervision, so play close attention when your child is in the pool, even if they can swim well. If a parent isn’t paying close attention, drowning can be easy to miss. There’s usually no splashing and flailing like you see in the movies. Within minutes, damage can occur to the brain as it is deprived of oxygen.

If you spot someone drowning, get them out of the water as quickly as possible and try to help reestablish breathing. Use hands-only CPR our mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and call 911.

Know the Signs of Dry Drowning

After a water incident, know that there could be a risk of dry drowning. This happens when the fluid that fills a person’s lungs comes from inside the body from inflammation as opposed to fluid from outside the body. This inflammatory reaction can happen to anyone after a water incident, but toddlers and young children tend to be more susceptible because they are more likely to be submerged underwater.

Cases of dry drowning typically happen within 6-12 hours of a water incident. Respiratory distress is the main thing to look out for. If you can see that your child is having difficulty breathing – the space between their ribs is standing out, their belly is moving in and out aggressively, their nose is flaring in and out – it’s time to seek medical attention. Persistent coughing (especially that leads to vomiting) and tiredness or lack of interaction 2-3 hours after the incident are also signs.

Keep the Water Clean

Keeping swimming water as clean as possible is an important way to reduce the spread of germs and water illness. If you are sick or have been sick in the last two weeks with diarrhea and vomiting, stay out of the water. This includes all swimming water, pools, lakes and ponds.

It’s also important to keep urine and feces out of the water. Make sure that kids take swimming breaks frequently for bathroom breaks. Use swim diapers on babies, which are made to hold waste to keep the water clean and safe. (Just be sure to remove the swim diaper when the baby is out of the water, as they are not made to be absorbent.) Lastly, never swallow water that people swim in.

Protect Your Ears

Swimmer’s ear, or otisis externa, is usually caused by excessive water exposures. Water becomes trapped within the ear canal and the skin becomes soggy, which results in bacterial growth. Small cuts in the ear canal linings can also cause bacterial infection.

If you have swimmer’s ear, you may experience decreased hearing, jaw pain and facial swelling. You should see your primary care provider as this condition is best treated with antibiotic ear drops. Analgesics and topical heat may also help with the pain. For those with recurring swimmer’s ear, ear plugs while swimming may help reduce the risk. You may also consider using an ear drop solution made with one part rubbing alcohol and one part white vinegar before and after water exposure to prevent the condition.

Keeping these safety precautions in mind can help you and your family safely enjoy water activities this summer.