Employee & Community Health

Is it safe to drink pool water? FAQs about kids and water

7/26/2018 by Dr. David Soma

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When it comes to kids and water, grown-ups have a lot of questions. The answers can give you peace of mind and let your kids splish and splash safely all summer long.

Can babies or toddlers wear diapers in the water?

Swim diapers and swim pants are water-repellent and fit snugly around a child's thighs and waist, but they're not waterproof. If your child has a bowel movement in the water, fecal material might escape the diaper.

A dirty diaper may contain diarrhea-causing germs, including the parasite cryptosporidium, which can contaminate pool water or other swimming areas. In healthy people, a cryptosporidium infection is less concerning and may cause diarrhea. The consequences can be more severe for the elderly and people with a chronic condition or weak immune system.

Urine in the water is less risky than feces, but it's difficult to separate the two when children wear diapers. If you allow your child to swim in a diaper, take bathroom breaks to use the toilet or change the diaper. If your child has diarrhea, keep them out of the water.

Is it risky for children to swallow pool water?

Your child is bound to gulp pool water, especially when first learning to swim. A little swallowed pool water typically isn’t a cause for concern, but too much can lead to illness. Encourage your child to spit out any water that gets in their mouth.

If my child has a splint, brace or cast, can they go swimming?

It depends:

  • Most casts are made of fiberglass. Some are made of plaster. The majority of casts should not be used in the water unless your medical provider specifically tells you that your cast is waterproof.
  • Certain braces or splints are waterproof, but this should also be cleared by your medical provider.

If you have your doctor's go-ahead to get your cast, brace or splint wet, after swimming, thoroughly rinse the inside of the cast with clean water and allow it to air dry.

Can children be in the water if they have ear tubes?

If your child has ear tubes — tiny cylinders placed through the eardrum to drain fluid and allow air into the middle ear — ask their doctor about ear protection and if it’s okay for your little fish to go in the water. Many times kids can swim in pools without ear plugs or other ear protection, but regular use might be needed when they dive or swim in untreated water, such as lakes and rivers.

What's the best way to prevent swimmer's ear?

Swimmer's ear is an infection that's often treated with prescription eardrops. To prevent this painful condition:

  • Keep ears dry. Encourage your child to wear ear plugs while swimming. After being in the water, dry their ears by gently wiping the outer ears with a soft towel or use a hair dryer. Put the hair dryer on the lowest setting and hold it at least a foot away from the ear.
  • Avoid using cotton swabs. Don't use cotton swabs in your child's ears, which can pack material deeper into the ear canal and irritate or break the thin skin inside the ear.

What about red eyes after swimming?

Exposure to chlorine used to treat pool water might leave your child with red eyes. To ease discomfort and reduce redness, rinse your child's eyes with a sterile eyewash or an artificial tears solution. To prevent red or puffy eyes, encourage your child to wear goggles while in the water.

What's the best age to begin swimming lessons?

Swimming lessons can be beneficial for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports swimming lessons for most children ages four and older.

Lessons can be considered for children ages one to four, but should be based on how frequently your child is exposed to water and the program. New evidence shows that children in this age group may be less likely to drown if they have formal swimming instruction.

Can children swim when they're sick or have cuts and scrapes?

It's fine for children who have colds or other minor illnesses to swim if they feel well enough. It’s also okay for them to swim with cuts and scrapes, as long as the wounds aren't bleeding.

Is it okay to swim right after eating?

Waiting an hour to go in the water after eating to prevent stomach cramps and drowning is an old summertime myth. It’s okay for kids to swim right after a light meal or snack. But if they feel really full or sleepy, encourage them to take a break before swimming.

Are hot tubs safe for kids?

Young children can quickly become overheated in a hot tub or spa. Although these pools are often shallower, there’s also a risk for drowning. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends no child five years old or younger be allowed to use a hot tub or spa. If you let your older child into a hot tub or spa, be sure to supervise them, keep their time in the water short and don’t allow them to use the spa for swimming.

Dr. David Soma is a pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). He serves as the volunteer team physician for the Mayo High School football team and provides education and guidance on medical issues for the Rochester Youth Football Association (RYFA).