With the arrival of summer, families are seeking cool, inexpensive ways to have outdoor fun. For many people, that means backyard pools. If you’re not fortunate enough to have your own in-ground pool, giving your children a place to swim or splash means relying on a portable model — possibly a wading pool, inflatable pool or a soft-sided, self-rising pool.
While portable pools can be a great way for children to cool off, a study at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital revealed these pools may be more dangerous than many parents realize. Every five days in summer, a child drowns in a portable pool somewhere in the U.S., according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. These pools can also create hygienic issues, one reason the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reminds parents of the risk of recreational water illnesses.
“Because portable pools are generally small, inexpensive, and easy to use, parents often do not think about the potential dangers,” Gary Smith, MD, said when his study was published in Pediatrics.
Parents tend to relax their guard around “kiddie” pools because they seem so child-friendly. But even a brief lapse in supervision, such as turning your attention away to socialize with neighbors, reading a magazine, or talking on the phone can allow a submersion to occur.
“It only takes a couple of minutes and a few inches of water for a child to drown,” Smith says. In fact, nearly 40 percent of children in the study were being supervised by an adult when they either drowned or had a near-drowning in a portable pool. “It is important for parents to realize that portable pools can be just as dangerous as in-ground pools.”
In addition to providing constant supervision, it is important for parents to empty kiddie pools and stow them away after each use. In the case of above-ground soft-sided pools that stay in place through the summer, be vigilant about restricting access, since children can easily pull down a side and fall into the water without being noticed.
When it comes to water illnesses, remember that if you fill your pool with a hose, the water will not contain enough chlorine to battle germs. Swallowing even just a little water that contains certain germs can make a person sick with a recreational water illness, such as gastrointestinal distress or skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurological, and wound infections. Although chlorine and filters can reduce the risk of illness, most smaller pools cannot be treated.
Children from one family or household are unlikely to spread diarrhea or other illnesses to each other when using the same pool because they are already exposed to each other’s germs. But you may want to think twice before letting the neighbors come over to splash and play, or allowing your child to splash in someone else’s portable pool.
After use, empty the portable pool, clean it, and allow it to dry in the sun for about four hours, the CDC advises. Medium and larger-sized inflatable and plastic pools that cannot be emptied daily should have filters and appropriate disinfection systems that meet the same requirements as full-sized swimming pools.
If you are headed to a public pool or water park, teach children not to swallow pool water. Swimming and splashing can be great sources of family fun and fitness, just remember to put safety first.