Swimming safely What should you watch out for at beaches and swimming pools?

Swimming safely What should you watch out for at beaches and swimming pools?

Everyone’s favourite summer activity is swimming. Swimming is probably the best form of exercise which is another reason to take to the water. But what do we need to be careful about to make sure we are safe?

At the sea

The majority of Greek seas do not pose risks for swimmers - and that is why they do not look like ocean seas which have various types of sharks and organisms with very dangerous bites. In any case, however, it is useful to remember:

- do not swim far from the coastline, especially at beaches you are not familiar with or if you are not a good swimmer.
- do not dive head first if you do not know how deep the sea is and what the sea bed is like and
- do not swim unless at least 4 hours have passed since your last meal.

Swimming and small children

Many children are afraid of the sea and there is no reason to push them to swim:
- Children over 8 months old can go into the sea. It is good to introduce them gradually and not to get into the water for more than 20 minutes.

-If you are on a beach you are not familiar with, it is good for the children to wear a full life jacket, while armbands and swimming rings can help children to swim and stop them going underwater.

-It is preferable to avoid going out on inflatables with young children, no matter how good swimmers the parents are. If you finally decide to go out on inflatables, children should wear whole body life jackets.

Choosing a beach

This year Greece was ranked second among 41 countries worldwide with 421 "Blue Flags". The "Blue Flag" is the world's best known environmental symbol and is awarded to European beaches that meet 29 criteria, with the most important being:

- Quality and cleanliness of bathing waters.
- Good organization at the beach which means that swimmers are safe (presence of a lifeguard, telephone access in case of emergency, provision and care for disabled people).   
- The beach has rubbish bins so it can be kept clean and in general the natural environment is protected.

Bites, stings and small accidents

Jellyfish stings
 Although these stings are usually not serious, they are enough to spoil your fun on vacation.  So, it is a good idea to have the following with you:
- Ointment containing ammonia.
- If you have any allergy you should have cortisone ointment with you and should consult your doctor beforehand about the kind of medication you need to have with you.
Do not use surgical alcohol 

 Be careful of sea urchins:
- If you are on a beach with rocks, avoid walking in places where you cannot see what you are stepping on, or wear special shoes for the sea or flippers.
- If you step on a sea urchin, put a little oil on any places where broken spikes have stuck in the skin. If you try to remove the spikes with a thin tweezer, be sure to disinfect it beforehand. If you cannot manage yourself, make sure to go to the nearest pharmacy or health center

 To avoid minor accidents with children on the beach:
- Be sure your children always wear beach shoes so they do not step on anything sharp. This helps to avoid infections. Children should also always wear swim suits.
- only let your children play with sand if you are at a clean beach
- be careful they do not swallow sand by mistake, and that it does not get in their eyes. - in both these cases, wash out well with water.   

Swimming in pools

Swimming in a pool is safe when all the rules for personal and public hygiene are rigidly complied with.
- You should always have a shower before going into the pool.
- The pool must meet all standards for cleanliness: it should be disinfected with chlorine so that the pH of the pool water is between 7.8 - 7.2. This means that the water is neither very alkaline, nor acidic. These conditions ensure that the water is cleared of any bacteria and also protects swimmers from skin and eye irritations.
- Parents should ensure that children go to the bathroom frequently and should avoid changing nappies in the area beside the pool.

Eliza Ferekidou
Dr. Biologist
Health Services Research Centre