Heath Column: Tips for swimming safely this summer

The pool on a property in Southold.
The pool on a property in Southold.

It seems that every summer, amid all the poolside, bayside and oceanside fun being had, you hear about a few startling water accidents no one ever saw coming.

Dr. Maribeth Chitkara, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, took a few minutes to share some tips, and dispel a few myths, that can help ensure that your family plays it safe in the water this summer. 

“As a mom, I have to continue to remind myself that it takes less than a minute for a child to drown,” said Dr. Chitkara.

The parent of three young children — ages 11, 8 and 5 — she said parents need to be on the lookout at all times, as one can never discount the chance of an accidental fall into the pool or ignore the jokester relative or friend who pushes people in.

She cautioned parents not to become lax at get-togethers or parties, assuming additional adults means additional safety.

“Ordinarily, you go to a party where everyone is assuming each parent is watching their own child, when in reality, that is not really happening,” Dr. Chitkara said, explaining that supervision often gets overlooked while people are enjoying themselves — and maybe a few margaritas.

Some families may opt to hire a lifeguard for added safety, but when that is not an option, she recommends having what the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force calls a “designated water-watcher.”

Identify one adult who will be in charge of keeping a watchful eye on the children and every 30 minutes or so, rotate that responsibility among different adults.

She added that floaties, noodles and other types of flotation devices should not be relied upon as “they are not foolproof.”

“They should not replace a good set of eyes,” she cautioned.

Dr. Chitkara also commented on a couple of swimming pool myths, noting that swimming in a pool with a bit of algae in it is all right — for the most part.

“You swim in ponds with algae,” she said. “The algae isn’t going to hurt you.”

She noted, however, that algae can cause pool floors, ladders and walls to become slippery, increasing the risk of a fall. It should be noted, she said, that such pools may not be chlorinated enough to kill other bacteria that could be harmful.

And, dispelling possibly the biggest myth created by parents, Dr. Chitkara revealed that there is no chemical agent you can put in a pool that will reveal if someone has peed in the water.

“There isn’t any magical chemical, but I’m going to tell my kids it’s in there anyway,” she said, laughing.

In terms of pool preparedness, she recommends always keeping a cellphone handy to call for help if needed.

One more important safety tip from the Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention: Do not let anyone jump into the water before notifying guests of its depth, as hitting a pool or bay bottom can cause neck and spinal cord injuries.

Approximately 800 of such injuries occur nationwide each year, with 90 percent of them occurring in water less than 6 feet deep, according to the American Red Cross.

Hitting the bottom of the pool or an object in the water is commonly the cause. Should such an injury occur, call 911 and try to keep the victim’s spine immobile until help arrives, according to the Red Cross.

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].