7 Swimming Rules That Will Save Your Life
Pool and Beach Tips: What to Know Before You Go
Flip-flops and bathing suits? Check.
Whether you’re taking a trip to the beach or the lake, or traveling to a spot where you can chill by the pool, there’s a lot to do before your family’s annual summer vacation.
As everyone knows, a “day at the beach” can be anything but if you’re unprepared, says Debra Best, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke Medicine in Durham, N.C. A little forethought and preparation can go a long way toward a safe and healthy summer vacation on the water.
Swimming: Practicing Beach and Pool Safety
Most kids can’t wait to go for a dip, Dr. Best says. Swimming is good exercise and great fun as long as your child is well supervised, she adds. “Teach your child to swim, and never leave a child alone by the beach or the pool, not even for a moment.” Floaties or other flotation devices aren’t substitutes for swimming lessons or adult supervision.
These other tips can help keep your family safe near the water:
- Pool access:If you’re renting a house with a pool this summer, make sure it’s gated in. “There needs to be a fence around the pool that kids can’t get through,” Best says.
- Lifeguard on duty:“Swim at a beach with a lifeguard,” advises B. Chris Brewster, the president of the United States Lifesaving Association, based in San Diego, Calif. Studies have shown that people are much less likely to die in a drowning-related incident if there’s a lifeguard on duty — that's the number-one pool safety and beach tip.
- Water currents:The greatest risk at surf beaches or great lakes are rip tides, currents, or channels. “If you’re caught in a rip tide, swim parallel to the shore or tread water,” Brewster advises. Whatever you do, don’t fight the current, he stresses.
Watch out for sea creatures as well. A jellyfish or stingray can certainly put a damper on a fun day. The good news is they don’t usually cause serious injuries. However, stings are painful, Brewster says. Before you plunge into the sea, ask the lifeguard on duty if there are any unusual problems with jellyfish or stingrays, he suggests.
Try the “Stingray shuffle” as you go for a stroll by the surfside. “Don’t pick your feet up and down,” he says. “Shuffle forward because stingrays only sting when they are stepped on.”
If you're stung by a jellyfish, submerge the injured area in water that’s as hot as you can stand or use a cold-pack to deaden the pain. “Other approaches, like urinating on the sting, haven’t been proven to be effective,” Brewster says.
Keeping Cool for Sun Safety
Overheating and dehydration can happen quickly, especially for kids in high heat and humidity, Best says. “If kids are thirsty, they’re not well hydrated,” she adds. Avoid this by making sure kids take a sip from a water bottle every 15 to 20 minutes. “Wear light-colored clothing, too,” she recommends. Adults can also get dehydrated, especially if you consume too much alcohol.
Packing Healthy Snacks
Anyone who’s ever visited a boardwalk or pool snack shop knows healthy foods and beverages can be hard to come by. Most pool and beach vendors sell fried dough, fried oysters, pizza, and chicken fingers, and host ice cream stands by the dozen. While these might be treats for travelers, packing healthier, more nutritious snacks for your family makes better sense, Best says. “Fruit is always good because it’s hydrating," she explains. Other healthy snacks include trail mix, granola bars, pretzels, and low-fat cheese sticks.
Practicing Smart Sun Protection
Skin cancer rates are increasing, and this includes melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer, which is being seen in increasing numbers in children and teens. Protect skin by choosing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 that has a physical blocker such as zinc oxide or titanium, advises Amy Forman Taub, MD, a dermatologist in Lincolnshire, Ill.
You want to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes and, if it's not water-resistant, immediately after you go for a dip, too. “Use the appropriate dose of sunscreen,” Dr. Adigun says. Don’t be stingy. It takes about a shot glass of sunscreen to cover an adult body.
Convenience aside, lotions are better than sprays. “It’s easier to tell if you missed a spot with cream or lotion," she says. “If you use a spray, make sure it’s sprayed close to your skin and then rubbed in.”
When it comes to SPF, higher isn’t necessarily better, says Chris G. Adigun, MD, an assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman department of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. In fact, a higher SPF product could give you a false sense of security, meaning you won’t reapply it as frequently as you should.
Even with sunscreen, it’s better to avoid the sun when it’s strongest and seek shade. “Hats with wide brims and sun-protective clothing can also keep your skin safe,” Dr. Taub adds.
Taking Extra Precautions
Importantly, if you have kids who have special health needs, “touch base with your child’s doctor before leaving in order to know what might make your trip more fun and in the best interest of your child’s health,” Best says. This may include packing extra medication, including allergy medications. Be sure to keep everyone's prescription medication in your carry-on bag when flying in case the airline loses your luggage.
Following these water and sun safety precautions, whether you’re at the lake, on the ocean, or poolside, can help ensure that your family enjoys a healthy vacation this summer.
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