Swimming is easily one of the most popular family activities with countless people able to fondly recall lazy summer days spent splashing around in the pool with parents, siblings, or friends. Swimming is also an excellent form of low impact exercise that just about anyone at any physical fitness level can enjoy. However, to enjoy healthy swimming for a lifetime it is crucial to exercise good swimming hygiene and to be aware of potential health dangers. Let’s take a look at some of these tips for good swimming hygiene, recognizing when you shouldn’t swim, and most importantly how to protect your health and that of your loved ones.
The Dangers of Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs)
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) is a term used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to refer to the various types of illnesses that may be spread by recreational water locations such as swimming pools, hot tubs, spas, rivers, lakes, and oceans. The most common type of RWI is diarrhea, however other RWIs include:
- Skin infections
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Eye infections
- Ear infections
- Respiratory infections
- Neurologic problems
- Infections of wounds and injuries
RWIs are spread when water contaminated with germs, bacteria, or parasites enters the body. Entry may occur as the result of the person swallowing pool water or it may occur through a cut or scratch on the skin, or the pathogen may be absorbed through the ears, eyes, or nose.
Tips for Good Swimming Hygiene
The pathogens that cause RWIs may be introduced to the water in a number of ways, but they most commonly enter the water via other swimmers. This may occur when the water mixes with an individual’s sweat and perspiration, if the person urinates in the water, or if trace amounts of fecal matter enter the water. Meanwhile, sunscreen, lotions and ointments, and other chemicals the person may be wearing – as well as dirt, debris, and even sunlight – can compromise chlorine and PH levels, creating a friendly environment for disease-causing pathogens. Finally, some pathogens such as the parasites Cryptosporidium and Giardia, which cause diarrhea, are resistant to chlorine and may be able to survive in contaminated water for several days. To keep yourself and others safe from these dangerous RWIs practice the following good swimming hygiene tips:
- Shower with soap and water before entering the pool.
- Don’t get in the water if you currently have or have recently had diarrhea.
- Always get out of the pool for restroom needs.
- Take your children out of the water for frequent restroom breaks.
- Make sure your children are clean before entering or re-entering the pool. Use soap and water.
- Don’t swim while sick or with open wounds.
- Never swallow pool water and try to keep it out of your mouth entirely.
- Never allow a baby to be in the water with a dirty diaper.
- Do not change diapers near the pool; go to designated changing stations.
- Shower after swimming.
Know When Not to Swim
Your attempts to practice good swimming hygiene may be in vain if others at the pool have not been responsible or if the pool itself is poorly maintained. If you observe any of the following warning signs stay out of the pool entirely since your chances of contracting an RWI may be increased:
- Strong chlorine smell – Contrary to popular belief, a pool that smells strongly of chlorine may not have high enough levels of chlorine. That is because the odor comes from chloramines which form as chlorine is broken down as a result of coming in contact with germs and bacteria.
- Itchy skin – Incorrect chlorine or PH levels may cause dry itchy skin.
- Eye irritation – Incorrect chlorine or PH levels may also cause eye irritation.
- Cloudy or visibly dirty water – You should be able to clearly see the pool’s floor and walls.
- Slippery or slimy surfaces – The pool’s walls and floor should feel smooth and clean, not slippery and slimy. Slippery, slimy surfaces are an indication of the presence of algae or other microorganism.
- Missing or broken equipment – The water should be continually lapping into filtration grills and you will likely be able to hear the sound of pumps and cleaning equipment. If this is not the case then the pool is likely not receiving the care and maintenance it needs to remain a healthy environment for swimmers.
Know When to Get Medical Treatment
Many RWIs are relatively minor and may not be cause for alarm. However, people with compromised immune systems, pregnant woman, small children, and the elderly are at a greater risk of developing serious, even life-threatening complications due to an RWI. Severe pain, high fever, and difficulty breathing are also major warning signs that must be quickly addressed. If symptoms do not improve or if they worsen, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Golden Triangle Emergency Center is ready to help RWI suffers address their medical emergencies by providing prompt, compassionate care in a comfortable setting.