Swimming is one of summer’s biggest joys, but also one of its biggest dangers. If you’re planning to swim anywhere this summer, whether in an ocean, lake or pool, be sure to exercise caution! There are many ways to get hurt (or worse) while swimming. Being aware of threats can help you avoid them, so be educated on the potential dangers of swimming anywhere. Here is a list of both common and bizarre swimming dangers, from shark bites to flesh-eating algae.
The biggest danger of swimming is the threat of drowning. Thousands of preventable drowning deaths happen each year. To make sure you and your loved ones are safe, don’t go deeper than waist-deep if you’re not confident in your ability to swim, never swim alone, and enroll in swimming lessons if you can’t already swim. Never take risks.
Swimming pool chlorine may keep away dangerous bacteria, but chlorine itself poses a threat. After all, chlorine is a poison! If you are going to be spending a lot of time swimming in pools this summer, be sure to exercise caution when it comes to chlorinated pools. If the chlorine content is too high, it can be extremely dangerous to swimmers. Also, chlorine tabs left unattended can be dangerous to children and pets. Too much time spent in chlorinated pools can give you breathing issues, eye irritation, and skin problems. While chlorine isn’t your biggest danger when it comes to swimming, it’s good to be careful anyway.
Unless you are very familiar with a beach or river, it can be difficult to know what the currents are like. Before swimming, you should always do your research to see if it is safe. Even the strongest swimmers are no match for a rip current! Pay attention to danger signs, like an apparently calm area between two waves, as well as warning from posted notices and life guards.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of strong swimmers who have drowned, tangled in a sunken net or trapped underwater. Often, even popular swimming areas have dark and opaque water. Don’t swim in areas if you can’t see what it around, and definitely don’t swim with your head underwater. Stay out of underwater caves.
The most obvious living threat in the water may be sharks. However, shark attacks are fairly rare, and there are actually plenty of other things that should worry you more. Injuries from stinging animals, like jellyfish, can range mildly irritating to incredibly painful and even deadly. Be aware of jellyfish, Portuguese man-o-war, scorpionfish, urchins, stonefish, fire coral, and more. The best way to avoid getting stung by something is to be aware of your surroundings and wear puncture-proof water shoes when wading.
While shark attacks are rare, they do happen. So do bites from other marine animals. To minimize your risk of being bitten, stay away from areas that sharks like to hang out, like the edge of reefs. Also, don’t wear flashy or glittery things, since usually-harmless barracuda are attracted to gleaming objects. These fierce fish have even been known to jump into boats when attracted by shiny jewelry!
One of the smallest but scariest threats to swimmers is flesh-eating bacteria. Both brackish and salt water can be infected with this bacteria. If you are in an area with sewer runoff or drainage, be cautious when swimming and rinse off afterward. If you have an open wound or cut, do not swim in water that could have bacteria such as Vibrio vulnificus. If you get cut while swimming, exit the water immediately and scrub the wound with antibacterial soap.
Swimmers are at particular risk of being struck by lightning during a thunder storm; you should never swim when it is storming outside. Although water doesn’t actually attract lightning, a swimmer sticking out above the surface does! And water is a great conductor of electricity, so you are at risk even if you are not at the immediate striking point. Pools, rivers, lakes, and even the ocean can conduct the electrical charge from a lightning strike for a great distance, electrocuting anyone within range.
There are many ways swimming water can be contaminated, but none of them are fun to encounter. In fact, they can be downright dangerous. Swimming pools can often be infected by microorganisms that cause diarrhea. If public pools aren’t properly treated, this can be a huge problem. Natural bodies of water have even more risks. Sadly, many of our natural water resources are contaminated by sewage, oil spills, water runoff, germs from human bodies, animal fecal matter, and even more disgusting things. In developing countries, it is tragically common for people to contract deadly parasites or diseases from swimming in dirty water. Before you swim, check with the local health department to see if the water is safe to swim in.
Playing in waves seems like a fun and harmless vacation activity, but it only takes one wave in the wrong spot to paralyze you for life. This is an extreme circumstance, but it has been known to happen to unwitting beachgoers. When you play in the waves, be sure they are not big or powerful enough to pose a threat. Don’t attempt to body-board or surf unless you are a strong swimmer, with people who can help in an emergency, and have received proper instruction.
An algal bloom is a natural phenomenon in which high levels of algae are suddenly found in bodies of water. Many of these are harmless and most are predictable, but they can also be toxic. Many times, it is cyanobacteria rather than algae that is blooming in discolored water, and this is also dangerous. If you’re in a common algal bloom area, always check to see if the water is safe for swimming. Often, you can see a change in the color of the water during a bloom.
With the increased pollution of bodies of water, debris poses a bigger threat today than ever before. Both natural and artificial debris can be dangerous. Not only can they entangle wildlife, they can also entangle you. Heavy objects, such as floating logs, are often found near beaches, and if propelled by a wave, can be deadly.
As warmer weather approaches, more people take to the water to beat the heat and have outdoor fun. Whether you’re headed to the beach, the lake, a water park, or just your backyard pool, be aware of these hidden dangers of swimming and take precautions to keep safe when you make a splash this summer.