Children’s Health: Water Safety at the Pool or the Beach

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June 10, 2021


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While U.S. public health officials say there are no reports of COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in pools, water playgrounds, or other properly treated aquatic venues, water safety should remain top-of-mind for parents as summer gets underway and more community pools and beaches start getting close-to-normal crowds again.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds During COVID-19 as re-openings of water venues expand.

Of the more than 3,500 annual accidental drownings (non-boating related) in the U.S., about one in five are children 14 and younger, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries,” the CDC states.

Parents should consult with their pediatrician or primary care physician regarding water safety issues. 

‘Prevention and Supervision’

“Water safety starts with prevention and supervision,” explains Javier A. Hiriart, M.D., a pediatrician and internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care, Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.. “Pool fences, pool covers and enclosures are an important preventive measure. Some have also installed chimes/door sensors that go off when a door is opened in order to alert that someone has gone outside. These measures are a good start but are not enough.”

Dr. Hiriart adds that prevention includes teaching our kids to swim. “And, even in the case of infants and toddlers, water safety and survival classes or swimming classes are vitally important,” he adds.

“Parents should also teach their children that they should not go in the water without proper adult supervision. Children should always be supervised by a responsible adult when playing in and around bodies of water.  Furthermore, even for children that are good swimmers, teaching them about safe play in and around the water can help prevent submersions and other injuries.  This could include avoiding rough play and not diving into shallow areas.

A related topic, he adds, is protection from the sun, which includes making sure children use sunscreen before and during water time to help prevent sunburns and skin damage.

Pool Water Safety Issues

The CDC has said that COVID-19 does not seem to be transmittable through pool water — but bacterial infections can occur. What precautions should parents take at home or community pools to avoid health issues which can be related to poor chemical maintenance?

“Ensuring your home pool water is chemically balanced and clean is a great start,” says Dr. Hiriart. “However, in the case when you are swimming at a community pool, you won’t have that control.  You can always ask to see a log of the pool maintenance if you are very concerned.”

Teaching kids not to drink the pool water, using ear plugs, and using eye protection (such as goggles) can also help “reduce exposure and effects from inadequately maintained water,” he adds.

According to Dr. Hiriart, these are the most common water-related health issues you see in kids during the summer months:

  • Ear infections—especially otitis externa (ear canal involvement)
  • Sunburns
  • Occasional jelly fish stings or sea lice dermatitis
  • Flare-ups of eczema if skin is too dry or due to pool chemicals

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