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Summer Health Risks Part 1: Water Hazards

Now that summer is finally here, swimming pools and lakes are open, and there’s nothing quite like the fun of being in or on the water. But there are risks that go with any water-related activities.


Of course, drowning is the greatest risk in and around the water. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 10 people drown every day, and according to Foundations for Aquatic Injury Prevention, an estimated 5,000 children ages 14 and under are hospitalized due to near drownings—which have high case fatality rates along with the risk of severe, permanent neurological disability.

The most common causes of drowning are

  1. Not knowing how to swim: Formal swimming lessons can dramatically decrease the risks of drowning.
  2. Failure to use life jackets. Children and adults who cannot swim should wear life jackets at all times when in or near the water. Be aware that “floaties” do not offer the same protection as life jackets and may actually be putting non-swimmers at risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against inflatable swimming aids such as water-wings, swim rings, infant neck rings, and pool noodles. “They are not a substitute for approved life jackets and can give children and parents a false sense of security.” All boats should provide easily accessible life jackets in good repair to everyone whether they can swim or not. In fact, it is best for everyone to wear their life jackets at all times while in a boat.\
  3. Lack of proper supervision: Children should never be left by or in water unsupervised. And remember, life jackets are not a substitute for adult supervision. In addition, adults should never swim alone.
  4. No fencing or other barriers around pools: Fences should have a locking mechanism and be tall enough to prevent children from having access to the pool area unsupervised.
  5. Alcohol use: Alcohol and water activities no not mix! The risk of drowning increases when responses are slowed and judgement is diminished.


Alcohol use doesn’t just increase the risk of drownings. According to the CDC, alcohol is involved in one in five boating deaths. Many people who would never think of drinking and driving have no qualms about drinking and driving—or drinking and riding in—a boat. Boats are heavy and can crash into other boats and objects in the water. They also have spinning propellers that can cause serious injuries. They should be treated as the dangerous pieces of machinery they are.


One of the problems with swimming in a lake or river is that it’s difficult to see what lurks in them—especially on the bottom. Stepping on stones or rocks, shells, pieces of glass, and other debris can result in serious cuts that may require professional closure. And lake and river water contain contaminates that may lead to infections. When in doubt, have all cuts and scrapes looked at by your doctor where they can be thoroughly cleaned and assessed for the need of stitches, sutures, or staples. To avoid the risk of cuts and lacerations, wear shoes specifically designed for walking in the water. They should also be worn on wet surfaces around the pool and in outdoor showers to avoid the risk of picking up athlete’s foot and other infections.

Though chlorinated pools offer some protection, there are still infections and diseases that can be picked up from them. In addition, some people are sensitive to chlorine—especially if they are prone to asthma. Taking a shower before and after entering a pool can help.


Bacteria and fungi in water that gets trapped in the outer ear canal can lead to swimmer’s ear—or otitis externa. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swimmer’s ear leads to approximately 2.4 million doctor’s visits and $500 million in health care costs per year.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can be moderate to severe and may include:

  1. Itching in the ear canal
  2. Redness inside the ear that may progress to swelling and redness in the outer ear
  3. Discomfort that ranges from mild to intense and is made worse by tugging at the outer ear
  4. Drainage that begins as clear and odorless and can progress to excessive and pus-filled
  5. Feeling of fullness in the ear that may lead to decreased or muffled hearing

Advanced swimmer’s ear may result in complete blockage of the ear canal, severe pain that radiates to the face, neck, or side of head, swelling in the neck lymph nodes, and fever. You should contact your doctor if you or a loved one experience even the mildest symptoms of swimmer’s ear and visit urgent care immediately if you or your loved one have severe pain and/or fever. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more serious infections.

To help prevent swimmer’s ear, don’t use cotton swabs to remove earwax, as earwax actually protects the lining of the ear from infections. Instead, dry your ears after swimming by tilting your head so one ear is facing down and water can drain out. Gently pull the earlobe in several directions to facilitate drainage. Repeat procedure with the other ear.

Here at Hillcrest Medical, we hope you have a safe, fun-filled summer that includes lots of time around, in, and on the water. We encourage you to take water-related risks seriously and remind you that we are here to help you with all of your summer health needs.

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