6 Pool Safety Questions You Need Answered Before You Dive In

6 Pool Safety Questions You Need Answered Before You Dive In

On a hot summer day, very little is quite as appealing as your local swimming pool.

Swimming is the most popular recreational activity for children and teens between the ages of 7 and 17. In the United States, around 91 million people over 16 swim in oceans, lakes and rivers each year, according to the CDC.

Alexander Nicholson

Getting in the water contains many benefits including exercise, relaxation and of course, a fun way to cool down. But it's not without risk: About 1 in 8 pool inspections conducted reveal serious violations that threatened public health and safety, found a CDC report.

"Obviously, brain injury by drowning is our utmost concern," said Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a pediatrician and medical epidemiologist at the CDC Injury Center. An average of 3,800 people die from drowning incidents and 5,800 people suffer from devastating brain injuries, such as memory problems, learning disabilities, or even lapsing into a vegetative state. "It's so preventable and unfortunately, hospital care doesn't alter the outcome. There's not a lot we're able to do for brain injury. That's why prevention is so so important."

Gilchrist recommends early swimming lessons so that children and adults alike have this important skill. Additionally, for children, supervision in all swim areas is essential. And, when a pool is not in use, make sure there are barriers to access: gates around pools, locks on doors and even alarms.

For adults, drownings are much more common in natural bodies of water rather than pools. And men are far more likely to drown than women. In fact, 80 percent of all drowning deaths occur in boys and men. This is likely because they're more apt to take on risky activities, according to Gilchrist, and are also far more likely to swim under the influence of alcohol as well as overestimate their swimming endurance and abilities.

Aside from drowning, there are a number of health complaints that can result in a day spent in the emergency room, rather than the water -- and misconceptions surrounding what causes them. To make sure your summer swim experience is nothing but good and good for you, we've compiled answers to some other common questions. Take a look at them below and then proceed to make a splash.

1. What's Swimmer's Ear Anyway?

This condition can refer to inflammation or infection of either the outer ear or the outer ear canal -- most often, it is simply an infection caused by swimming in contaminated water. Many bacteria, such as pseudomonas, can lead to an ear infection and are prevalent in water, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

But swimmer's ear can also be caused by irritation to the layer of skin lining your ear canal -- most often caused by putting fingers, cotton swabs or something else too far into the ear canal.

Ear pain, discharge from the ear (particularly if it is a strange color, thick like pus or foul smelling) or an itching sensation in the ear canal are all symptoms of swimmer's ear. Some people may even experience temporary hearing loss.

As with any bacterial infection, oral antibiotics are the most common form of treatment. If the swimmer's ear is an inflammation or irritation rather than an infection, corticosteroids are the most common treatment, according to the NLM.

Aside from steering clear of polluted water, you can avoid swimmer's ear by using earplugs, thoroughly drying your ears after a swim or even applying an alcohol-vinegar solution to the ears after a swim to prevent bacterial growth.

2. Will I Really Cramp After Eating?

This common wisdom was dismissed by many in the medical and safety communities. Waiting 30 minutes to an hour after eating to hop in the pool? Folklore. In fact, a 2005 New York Times article called it "yet another old wives' tale that should be laid to rest."

The theory behind the supposedly disproven precaution is that blood flow to the stomach increases after eating, which draws it away from muscles, causing immobilizing cramps that can cause drowning.

However, according to a 2011 study in the journal Medicine, Science and the Law, those who swim on a full stomach really do have a higher drowning risk. Researcher's from Tokyo Women's Medical University looked at data from 536 autopsies between April 2000 and December 2007. They split the autopsies into two categories: those in which solid food was visible in the stomach (a sign that a person had eaten recently) and those without any solid food. Among the 34 cases in which the deceased showed signs of having eaten recently, 79 percent had died of accidental drowning. What's more, it went both ways: nearly 80 percent of those who drowned accidentally had visible food residues in the stomach.

These researchers theorized that the blood flow to the stomach following eating, in combination with the swim, caused light-headedness that made some people lose consciousness.

3. Is It That Bad To Pee In The Pool?
Peter Cade via Getty Images

Yes. While holding it until you find a toilet seems like a pretty basic courtesy, surveys consistently show that more of us are relieving ourselves in the pool. In fact, reported CNN, 17 percent of adults admitted to peeing in the pool -- including one rather famous swimmer, Michael Phelps.

The problem with peeing in the pool is that the nitrogen in urine combines with the sanitizing chlorine to form a different chemical, chloramine. That does two things, Michele Hlavsa, epidemiologist and chief of Healthy Swimming and Waterborne Disease Prevention at the CDC told CNN. First, it ties up the chlorine, so it isn't doing its job of killing common pathogens like E. coli, salmonella and others. Second, it is a major irritant -- if you've experienced respiratory irritation, coughing or stinging red eyes, it could be caused by chloramines. Sweat and personal care products also contain nitrogen, and so rinsing off in a shower before getting into the pool is a good way to prevent creating chloramines.

How can you tell if urine is present? You don't need a special forensics team. According to Hlavsa, if the pool has a strong chemical smell, that's chloramine -- not chlorine. "A healthy pool doesn't smell," she said.

But while we're on the subject of bathroom behavior, one in five adults admits to swimming while suffering from diarrhea. That's problematic because one common bacterium that causes diarrhea -- chryptospiridium -- is very chlorine tolerant, surviving up to ten days in a well chlorinated pool. The bacteria can even stay in your system for up to two weeks and since the average person usually has a tiny amount of feces on their bottom, it is incredibly important to shower before going in the pool and to avoid drinking pool water.

4. Why Are My Eyes Irritated?

If you're in a pool, you may be having a bout of "chemical conjunctivitis" -- a type of irritation caused by the chemicals used in many pools to keep things sanitized. You may be grateful for the dose of chlorine in the local watering hole (see previous slide), but it can also lead to irritation if administered with a heavy hand.

On the flip side, under chlorinating can lead to eye irritation and infection, too, thanks to water-loving bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ensure the water is at an optimal pH level, which helps the chlorine work properly to sanitize the water, for your eyes -- and the rest of you.

5. Can I Get Burned If I'm Underwater?

You absolutely can. "Sun rays penetrate the water surface, so it's really important to wear a long-lasting [and waterproof] sunblock," says Gilchrist.

As far as sun exposure goes, the real concern is the reflective surface of the water, which amplifies the sun's rays by 50 percent and can cause a burn for swimmers and boaters alike. For that reason, it's important to be especially vigilant about applying sunscreen and wearing sunglasses.

6. What Do I Watch Out For?

Many of these risks may leave you hesitant to work on your breaststroke. But there are ways to minimize the dangers of public swimming according to Time:

1. Look at the water before you jump in. Pool water should be clear, not cloudy or foamy which are signs of potentially unhealthy bacteria.

2. Stay Squeaky Clean. Always shower and wash your hands before and after going in the pool. This prevents you from contaminating the water and from getting any unwanted diseases. Keep your mouth closed as well, so you do not swallow water by accident.

3. Check Chlorine Levels. Follow the CDC's chlorinating guidelines to make sure that the pH level is adequate. pH level should be tested once a day in your own pool and at least once every three hours in public pools.

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