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Health risks to watch out for this summer in pools, rivers and lakes

There is nothing better than hopping in a cooling river, lake or pool during the summer heat. Swimming is definitely the most popular summer activity with youngsters and adults alike, but can be dangerous if you are not careful enough about the health risks.

Drowning

Unfortunately, drowning is still the 2nd leading cause of accidental death among children aged between 1 and 16. This is mostly the result of insufficient swimming knowledge. It is very important that everybody be fully aware of their limits when it comes to swimming – for how long they are able to swim, how deep should they go, how well they deal with waves, tides and currents in lakes and rivers.

Parents should always keep an eye on their younger children, and it is even best to always pair up and swim with a buddy to avoid unnecessary danger. Moreover, knowing how to recognize if someone’s in trouble in the water is also important. Keep an eye on your surroundings; it may save a life one day.

Swimmer’s itch

Swimmer's itch is an easily recognisable itchy rash, which will occur soon after you go swimming. This itch is a typical allergic reaction to the microscopic parasites that attack the swimmers’ skin. These parasites naturally live in rivers and lakes, and in the fur of certain animals that live near the water. You can highly reduce the risk of getting swimmer’s itch just by rinsing off thoroughly after you went for a dip.

Although very uncomfortable feeling, the swimmer's itch is usually a rather short-term inconvenience, as the parasites will die very soon on human skin. The rash typically clears up within two to five days. In the meantime, apply cool on affected areas, or use corticosteroid creams or anti-itch lotions.

Swimmer’s ear

Swimmer's ear – or otitis externa – is an inflammation or infection of the ear canal. The condition is called swimmer's ear, because it most commonly occurs in people who have been swimming frequently. The excessive water exposure makes the skin of the ear canals soggy and more vulnerable against bacteria or fungus. Symptoms include itchy ears, a feeling of fullness in the ears and pain.

To avoid swimmer’s ear this summer, take extra precautions to keep your ears dry at all times when possible. Use earplugs or a cotton ball with a small portion of Vaseline on the outside to plug the ears. Dry your ears when you get out of water, but always be gentle, do not damage the soft skin of the ear canals even further. If you are unlucky enough to get swimmer’s ear, antibiotic ear drops and avoidance of water will be necessary parts of the treatment.

Chlorine and disinfection by-products (DPBs)

Although we all know pools are treated with chlorine and that it is considered a dangerous chemical, recently scientists have discovered that chlorine itself is not the primary hazard. It’s the compounds that result when chlorine mixes with organic materials – like hair, skin, sweat, dirt, and urine. Researchers call these disinfection by-products, or DBPs.

DBPs now are known to be thousand times more dangerous than chlorine itself, which can be a serious issue if somebody is using chlorinated pools regularly. To avoid the most damage possible from DPBs always shower thoroughly before they enter the pool. This will get rid of some of the organic compounds that interact with chlorine. Then shower again after swimming to rinse off DPBs.

Don’t go into the pool, if you have diarrhoea; do not urinate in the pool and teach your kids the same; do not ever swallow the pool water. Try to avoid indoor pools as because of the closed, humid environment with very little ventilation DPBs can become breathable as well. A very good alternative is to swim in rivers, in a lake or other natural body of water.

The most important general tips to be safe this summer:

  • Try not to get water in your mouth and don’t open your eyes underwater

  • Take a shower before swimming and when you’re done swimming

  • Rinse off thoroughly

  • Don't go swimming if you have bigger open wounds or cuts

  • When swimming in open water swim close to the shore, swim with a buddy, and make sure to know about currents and water depth

  • See your doctor if you’ve got signs of infection – like red, swollen and warm skin –  rashes or any unsettling symptoms