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Swimming Pools: Safety and Sanitation

What you need to know to protect your child at the swimming pool or beach:

  • Never take your eyes off of them (even children who can swim drown every year…) San Diego has the highest drowning rate in the country (due to year round swimming)!
  • Sunscreen
  • Don’t take them swimming when ill (especially with diarrhea illnesses).
  • Rinse off with tap water after swimming and remove all wet swimsuits.
  • Wear snug fitting fabric swim diapers (more economic and effective than the disposable ones).
  • Use drying eardrops or hairdryer to dry ear canals after swimming to prevent swimmer’s ear.


What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is also known as otitis externa, it is an infection of the skin lining the ear canal.  It is usually quite painful to the touch of the outer ear and follows after lots of swimming in a pool or the ocean or more likely a pond or river.  The infection is caused by the remaining water sitting in the ear canal and can be prevented by using drying methods after swimming such as over-the-counter drying drops or using a hairdryer on a cool setting.  Once a child has swimmer’s ear these methods will not help and may actually hurt.  If the child has swimmer’s ear your pediatrician will prescribe prescription antibiotic eardrops and sometimes an oral antibiotic as well.


How dirty are pools?

Urine is sterile, so children who urinate in a pool don’t cause any risk of infection, although obviously people don’t want to swim in urine.  However, it is so diluted that it usually is not a problem.  Regularly cared for pools that have adequate chlorine levels are fairly clean in terms of bacteria and fungus.  The only health risk is when fecal matter is in the water.  For this reason it is important your child never swims when s/he has diarrhea.  In addition, a tight fitting (non-disposable, fabric) swim diaper should be used on all children who are not fully potty-trained.  Another good habit is to have your child use the bathroom right before swimming and encourage him/her to take potty brakes during the swim day, making sure the child understands it is never OK to go potty in the pool.


What common skin rashes/irritations are due to swimming/sun exposure?

Sunburn is the most common skin finding we see in the summer!

  • Use at least SPF 30 waterproof.
  • Needs to be REAPPLIED every 90 minutes.
  • Sunscreen should be applied at least 10 minutes (30 preferable) before swimming (especially if using the spray on sunscreen).
  • Sunscreen sticks are preferable to lotions near the eyes.


Dry skin:

  • Rinse off the pool or ocean water after swimming.
  • Apply moisturizer after rinsing off.


Hot tub folliculitis:

  • Use a good antibacterial soap when showering off after being in a hot tub.
  • If any red bumps occur use a topical antibiotic ointment and see an MD if not improving in 2-3 days.


Impetigo is a staph or strep skin infection that is contagious usually following a break in the skin:

  • Keep cuts and scrapes covered with waterproof bandages.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to wounds.
  • Don’t swim if you have a skin infection.