Whether it’s the beach, a lake, or a pool, taking a swim can be quite relieving now that the nation is under a heat wave. However, it can also be risky because there are several hidden dangers that swimmers and caregivers should be aware of.
Water quality hazards
A food and water safety advocate, Candess Zona-Mendola, from Houston who contests food and water contamination cases, said poor water quality can make a swim risky.
“One of the biggest hidden water dangers we see in the summer season is vibrio bacteria in salt water environments, like the ocean,” she said.
These are flesh-eating bacteria that are highest in the summer months, though exposure to vibrio can occur any time of the year.
Due to the rise in ocean temperatures and global warming, we are experiencing more vibrio cases,” Zona-Mendola said.
To prevent a vibrio infection, avoid drinking the water or have any exposed wounds when you go for a swim. Also, to avoid contamination, endeavor to rinse off when you get out of the water.
Likewise, the brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri can gain access to the body via the nose and travel to the brain. Swimmers who want to prevent the rare occurrence of its spread should use a nose clip while swimming.
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The amoeba is found in warm freshwater environments such as rivers, hot springs, and lakes.
According to Susan Richardson, PhD, a chemistry professor at the University of South Carolina, pool chemicals, which can make water quality safe, can also be unsafe to swimmers with asthma. This is because of trichloramine – a disinfection byproduct of chlorine. The substance is formed when chlorine and urine combine in the pool.
Those who spend a lot of time in indoor pools also may be more susceptible to cold-like symptoms, burning eyes, and sore throat.
It’s essential for swimmers in the open sea to be vigilant when rip currents or undertows are present because the power of water alone can be deadly for swimmers at the beach or in a river.
Large breaking waves can also be harmful and have a hard impact on swimmers, according to Rob Brander, PhD, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales. Being pushed over by a big wave or being pulled under can be disorienting for swimmers. This can be especially dangerous for young children or others who aren’t strong swimmers.
Drowning remains an ongoing threat of swimming and continues to be a major cause of accidental death, according to Tom Griffiths, president and founder of the Aquatic Safety Research Group.
“Because drowning is so quick, quiet, and subtle, both meticulous parents and vigilant lifeguards have literally watched children drown,” Griffiths said.
“The open water continues to be more hazardous than clear-water swimming pools because of environmental conditions like waves, currents, lack of water clarity, sudden drop-offs, and others, but swimming pools with lifeguards on duty can also be risky for nonswimmers,” he said.
“Even in crystal-clear-water swimming pools, once a child slips beneath the surface, the water quickly hides and suffocates victims because of the ripple effect of surface agitation normally occurring.”
As for dry drowning, Griffiths said the name is a misnomer, but that there is a risk to people who aspirate or breathe in water.
“You can’t drown without getting water into the lungs, in extremely rare circumstances, however, children who aspirate water can drown a short while after leaving the water if untreated,” Griffiths said.
He says water can damage the lungs within two hours of being inhaled and also cause symptoms like irritability, coughing, and fatigue. If a child has aspirated water and doesn’t seem to be acting normal, they should immediately be rushed to the hospital.
Holding your breath may sound like a common activity for swimmers, but going extreme can be deadly.
“Good swimmers and athletes often believe extreme breath-holding for either time or distance is a shortcut to endurance,” Griffiths explained.
Breath-holding which is competitive, repetitive, and includes strenuous exercise and/or hyperventilation can be deadly.
He added that extreme breath-holding that is competitive and repetitive should be forbidden in all swimming pools.