Having spent over two decades in the nefarious humidity of Houston Summers, I'm well aware (and very fond) of the miraculous relief that comes in the form of community pools. Along with entertaining the kids in a way that doesn't involve staring blankly into a screen for hours, going to the pool also means another adult (read: lifeguard) is on the job to make sure your children stay safe. However, there are a few things you should always think about before you send your kids to the pool. As fun as an afternoon in the water can be, it's good to be cognizant of the problematic possibilities that lurk in the depths of public pools.
- Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) — Yes, there's actually a name for the numerous health issues that can arise from exposure to the many types of bacteria in any public pool. The variety of bacteria include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and E. coli, most of which are spread through feces in the pool. These bacteria can wreak all sorts of gastrointestinal havoc like vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. The best way to avoid being in this predicament is to train your children (over and over and over again) to never swallow pool water. Also, the Center for Disease Control recommends that consumers check their public pool's inspection report to verify that no violations are in place.
- Lifeguards on Duty — Don't let your guard down simply because there may be a lifeguard present. An ecology study on the risk of drowning in a public pool found that on average, lifeguards on duty were distracted at least 10 times per hour and only warned swimmers about dangerous behaviors one out of every 14 occurrences. Given that two children (under the age of 14) drown every single day in America, don't rely on anyone else to safeguard your child.
- Ratio of Big/Little Kids — Let's be real: you're not going to ever find the community pool empty, but make sure you're diligent about watching your kiddo when a lot of children are present. The ratio of big kids versus little kids won't ever be predictable, but bigger kids will take bigger risks and engage in horseplay, which can unknowingly injure a smaller child even at the shallow end of the pool. Plus, sometimes smaller children may mimic dangerous behaviors, so make sure to educate your little ones about what their limits are.
- Chlorine — Contrary to popular belief that a lot of chlorine in the pool must equal fewer germs, there isn't actually a lot of research about what the effects of chlorine are on the human body. Yes, chlorine disinfects public pools effectively, but when it mixes with bodily fluids (gross, but yeah . . . ), the chemical reactions cause harmful byproducts, which can be toxic to humans, especially those with compromised immune systems or those who suffer from allergies or asthma. Keep an eye on how frequently you go to highly chlorinated community pools, and steer clear of any pool that has an overly strong smell of chlorine.
- Overheating — It's hard to imagine getting overheated while splashing around in a pool, but don't underestimate how hard your body is working in the water. Hyperthermia, otherwise known as overheating, can occur when you swim for an extended amount of time in a body of water that's higher than 85 degrees. This causes your core body temperature to rise, and once it hits 102 degrees, you can feel lightheaded, nauseous, dizzy, or worse. Avoid overheating by pulling the kids out of the water every 45 minutes for a quick 10-minute cooldown (which also makes for a great time to hydrate, have a snack, and hit the bathroom).