When it comes to water safety, we could all use a refresher. A Roper St. Francis doctor weighs in on how to keep your little swimmers and yourself safe.
In the Lowcountry, splashing about is nearly second nature—especially when the summer heat settles in. But before you and your family dive in, know this: “The second leading cause of accidental death for young people between the ages of five and 24 is drowning,” says Dr. Todd Detar.
Though it’s a grim statistic, most drowning incidents can be prevented with proper supervision. “For infants and toddlers, there should be one adult supervisor per child. When watching preschoolers, that ratio can be four children to one adult. And six school-aged kids can be supervised at once,” Dr. Deter advises. That said, some bodies of water are more dangerous than others—such as the ocean or rivers—and in those settings, more eyes are needed for vigilant watching.
While supervising child swimmers, be on the lookout for signs of fatigue (fussiness and irritability can be as telling as yawns). If spotted, have them take a time out on land. “It’s challenging to put a specific time guideline for swimming breaks, but always be overcautious. If your child seems tired, pull them out of the water.” And for older children and adults alike, the key is to never swim alone. “Always have a swim buddy,” says Dr. Detar.
Lastly, though the American Academy of Pediatrics says children as young as one can safely take swimming lessons, until your child is a competent swimmer, Dr. Detar recommends use of a flotation device approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. “Flotation devices should also be worn by all when boating or participating in water sports like canoeing and kayaking,” he stresses.
Swim Safety Tips
Though keeping a close eye on your child is perhaps the best way to reduce drowning risk, Dr. Detar has a few additional tips for keeping kiddos safe in and around water.
- Power up. Pack healthy snacks and lots of water to help keep your child’s energy up throughout a day of swimming. But don’t worry about waiting 20 minutes after snacking to swim; this rule is just a myth, says Dr. Detar.
- Float safely. Dr. Detar says young children and weak swimmers should use floatation devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, such as the lifejacket brand Puddle Jumpers. Steer clear of around-the-arm floaties. “They’re unreliable and unsafe,” he says.
- Stay screened. Always use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and apply it often. Dr. Detar recommends slathering on a shot-glass worth of lotion every two hours and after swimming.
- Pay attention to pop-up showers. If you hear thunder, you’re within 10 to 15 miles—and striking range—of lightning. Pack up and leave the premises until the storm has passed.
Rip Currents 101
From Isle of Palms to Kiawah, the Lowcountry offers beaches aplenty for family fun in the sun. When hitting the shore this summer, keep these factoids about rip currents—channels of water that flow out into the ocean—in mind, courtesy of Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission:
- The currents can be very narrow or up to 100 yards wide, and can move as fast as eight miles per hour.
- 80 percent of all beach rescues involve riptides.
- Signs of a rip current include color variation within the water, a break in the wave pattern, choppy waves, and foam or seaweed moving out toward the water.
- If caught in one, don’t fight the current; try to remain calm and swim parallel to the shoreline. Once out of the stream, swim to shore diagonally away from the riptide and wave or yell for help, if needed.
Freshwater Amoeba Facts
Last summer, an 11-year-old girl tragically died after contracting Naegleria fowleri—a freshwater amoeba that causes a brain infection often leading to death—while swimming in the Edisto River within Charleston County. The parasites exist in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds and can reach the brain through the nasal canal. Dr. Detar stresses that deadly encounters rarely occur: “Nationally, there were only 33 freshwater amoeba cases between 2006 and 2016.” However, because the parasite thrives in hot water, like that in late summer, experts recommend wearing nose plugs or holding your nose when jumping into and swimming in warm fresh water, or to keep your head above water. If symptoms surface after swimming in a pond, river, or lake, (those include severe headache, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light), seek medical care immediately.
By: Hailey Middlebrook