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How Can I Keep My Child Safe at the Pool This Summer?

In the summer, the allure of a cool, refreshing pool becomes irresistible, especially for children. However, pools can also present several hazards, from slippery surfaces to a lack of supervision, that parents must be aware of to ensure their children’s safety.

Drowning is the most common cause of death in children aged 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of death in 5 to 14-year-olds. Of the 4,012 fatal drownings that occur on average each year, 30% occur in swimming pools.

Learn the common dangers associated with pools and how to prevent these potential mishaps.

Slip and Fall Injuries

Pools often have wet and slippery surfaces that can lead to accidents. Falling on pool decks or slipping into the pool can cause various injuries, ranging from minor bruises to severe head injuries or fractures.

According to a 2019 study, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for all children ages 0 to 19. Every day, approximately 8,000 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, some of which are related to pools.

To prevent falls, enforce rules prohibiting running or horseplay around the pool. Encourage using water shoes designed to provide grip on wet surfaces, and teach children to enter and exit the pool slowly, using handrails when available.

Shallow Diving Injuries

Shallow diving injuries are a risk, especially for children who may not understand the potential dangers. These injuries occur when children dive into water not deep enough to safely absorb the impact, causing them to hit the bottom of the pool. This can result in serious injuries, such as spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries, fractures, and in severe cases, paralysis or death.

According to a 2020 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 1,157 diving-related injuries occurred between 2008 and 2020, and 80% occurred in children aged 10 to 19. 29.5% of diving-related injuries happened due to hitting the bottom or side of the pool, potentially due to shallow water diving.

To keep your children safe, implement a no-diving policy in the pool’s shallow end and educate them about the risks of diving into shallow water. Ensure they enter the water feet first when the pool depth is uncertain.

Sunburn and Sun Poisoning

Extended exposure to sunlight while swimming or playing near a pool can lead to sunburn or, in severe cases, sun poisoning. Sunburn is a sign of skin damage, often resulting in red, painful skin that can blister. Sun poisoning, a more extreme form of sunburn, can cause symptoms like severe skin redness and blistering, dehydration, headache, nausea, dizziness, and fever.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one blistering sunburn as a child can make you twice as likely to develop melanoma later in life. It is also reported that up to 80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure occurs during childhood, making sun safety a vital concern for this age group.

Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to your child’s skin, and reapply every two hours and after swimming. Sun-protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses can provide further protection. Encourage breaks in the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest, and ensure children stay well-hydrated.

Inadequate Swimming Abilities

Children with poor swimming skills are at higher risk of accidents and drowning. They may struggle if they accidentally fall into the water, panic in deep water, or get caught in pool drains or filters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 5 to 14.

Enroll your children in swimming lessons at an early age, and ensure they include water survival training such as floating and treading water. Even proficient swimmers should be monitored, as accidents can happen to anyone. Use appropriate flotation devices like water wings or life preservers for less confident swimmers, but don’t rely solely on these tools for safety.

The Reality of Drowning

Contrary to popular portrayals in movies and television, drowning is often a silent event, not accompanied by splashing, waving, or calls for help. When someone struggles to breathe, their body’s instinctive response—sometimes called the “instinctive drowning response”—kicks in. This response causes the person to extend their arms and paddle down to keep their head above water, making it difficult to wave or call for help.

According to the WHO, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death globally, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. In the U.S., there are about ten deaths from accidental drowning every day, of which two are children under 14.

Never leave children unattended near or in a pool, even if they are good swimmers. Designate a responsible adult as a water watcher who maintains constant eye contact with swimmers. For non-swimmers or poor swimmers, in addition to outfitting them with floatation devices, never be more than an arm’s length from them in the pool. Equip the pool with rescue equipment like rescue tubes or ring buoys and ensure everyone knows how to use them.

Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning

Dry drowning, also called post-immersion syndrome and secondary drowning, are relatively rare but potentially severe submersion injuries that can occur hours after a child has been in the water.

In dry drowning, water is inhaled and causes the vocal cords to spasm and close up, shutting off the airway. With secondary drowning, water gets into the lungs and can cause edema, or swelling, which disrupts oxygen flow into the bloodstream.

Although the exact incidence rate is difficult to determine due to their rarity, it’s estimated that dry drowning and secondary drowning account for approximately 1-2% of all drowning incidents. Despite their low occurrence, the potential severity of these conditions makes them essential for parents to understand.

Children who experience these conditions may seem fine immediately after getting out of the pool but can start to have trouble breathing up to 24 hours later. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and extreme fatigue.

Prevention includes close supervision while swimming, teaching children to blow water out and never to swallow it, and avoiding rough play that could lead to a lot of water going up the nose or mouth. Seek immediate medical attention if a child displays any signs of respiratory distress following submersion, even if they initially seemed fine. Prompt action could mean the difference between a close call and a fatal outcome.

Uninterrupted Supervision is Key

Constant, uninterrupted adult supervision is the most important factor in preventing pool-related injuries and drownings. No matter how confident a child may be in the water, there’s no substitute for the watchful eye of a responsible adult.

If, despite all precautions, your child suffers an injury at a pool, it may be necessary to consult with a lawyer. Whether the incident occurred at a private home, a community pool, or a commercial water park, you may have a valid legal claim if negligence played a role in the accident. Examples of negligence include a lack of proper supervision, failure to maintain safe pool conditions, or inadequate safety measures.

A Fox Cities premises liability lawyer can help you understand your rights and navigate the legal process. They can assess the facts of the case, gather evidence, and advise you on the best course of action.

Contact Brian Hodgkiss Injury Lawyers for a free case review and learn your legal options if your child has been involved in a pool accident.  

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