5 tips for staying safe and healthy this summer

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This summer, maximize fun in the sun and minimize its hazards by heeding these five safety rules.

1) Keep pools clean.

Chlorine only reduces nasty bacteria; it doesn’t eliminate them, said Dr. Chris Hwang, medical director of emergency services at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora. Because of that, swallowing even a little pool water can make you sick.

To reduce pool germs, swimmers must shower before entering the pool and wash their hands after using the restroom. Every hour, change babies’ and toddlers’ diapers and escort small children to the bathroom. Experiencing vomiting or diarrhea?

“Don’t come to the pool,” Hwang said.

2) Practice safe swimming.

Employ the buddy system for older children and adults and only frequent pools and lakes with an on-duty lifeguard, Hwang said. When swimming in open waters, watch for other hazards, such as boaters.

Unskilled swimmers should remain where feet easily touch bottom, even if peer pressure entices your child otherwise, said Dr. Tom Scaletta, medical director of the emergency department at Edward Hospital in Naperville. Diving in shallow water — anything less than 12 to 15 feet — can break one’s spine and cause quadriplegia, Scaletta said.

Before entering swimming pools, check chlorine levels.

When swimming in surf beaches, beware of rip tides. If you encounter one, don’t panic and don’t try to swim out of it, Scaletta said. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until the tide calms down. “If you can’t swim, just float until you reach normal current,” Scaletta said.

Many people don’t consider hypothermia when temperatures soar, especially when boating on an 80 degree day. The trouble occurs when one dives into 50 degree water. “Muscles can quickly become weak and you might not make it back to the boat,” Scaletta said.

Listen to weather reports before swimming and pay attention to your surroundings once you’re in the water, as it is very dangerous to swim during a thunderstorm, said Dr. Syeda Ali, family practice physician at Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich.

She also recommends adults learn CPR and that weak swimmers wear life jackets. “If you’re at a water park, make sure your child fits the age and size requirements,” Ali added.

3) Stay hydrated to prevent heat-related illnesses.

Guard against heat exhaustion and heat stroke by drinking plenty of water — sports drinks are better — but avoid alcohol and caffeine, as both are diuretics, Scaletta said. This is especially true on hot and humid days, when the heat index may rise above 100 degrees. “Full blown heat stroke can cause seizures, coma and death,” Scaletta said.

If someone experiences muscle cramps and weakness, excessive thirst, headache, nausea and vomiting, remove him from the sun, offer fluids and call 911, Ali said.

4) Supervise small children.

Every summer, Hwang said, Rush-Copley treats several drowning victims, often children under 5. If you own a pool, surround it with a secured barricade fence.

“We’ve seen multiple cases where neighborhood kids enter the pool because the gate was unlocked,” Hwang said.

Young children require constant supervision, even when splashing in a wading pool or shallow end of a public pool. When pools are full, it’s easy to lose sight of your child.

“In one case, the child got lost from the parents and was found in the deeper end,” Hwang said. “We did successfully resuscitate the child. The more crowded the pool, the more vigilant parents must be in knowing where their kids are.”

5) Don’t forget sunscreen.

Reapply often, according to package directions, Ali said. Water intensifies the sun’s rays, Scaletta added, which may cause severe burning.