Summer safety at the beach and the public pool

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Most vacations to the beach result in an enjoyable time with family and friends. But there are dangers to be aware of, drownings, rip currents, jellyfish, sharks and sunburn, to name a few. In addition to using good judgment when swimming in the ocean and using sunscreen to prevent sun poisioning, there are steps you can take to lower your risk.

Rip currents, often misnamed undertows, occur when surf pushes water up the slope of the beach and then gravity pulls it back. They are not benign. In fact, about 80 percent of drownings and lifeguard rescues at ocean beaches are due to rip currents.

Select a beach where lifeguards are present.

If you do happen to get caught in a rip current, swim to the side one way or the other, until you no longer have difficulties or feel yourself being pulled.

Don’t try to fight the current.

You may be a confident pool swimmer, but that doesn’t prepare you for the ocean. Always swim near a lifeguard and never swim alone. Even a confident swimmer can experience difficulties.

You should also avoid alcohol while swimming. Alcohol can reduce body temperature and impair your ability and judgment.

Don’t drive boats while drinking alcohol.

Shark attacks are rather rare. There are an average of 50 to 70 shark attacks every year.

To avoid becoming a statistic, don’t wear shiny jewelry and don’t swim at dusk.

Also avoid all jellyfish. If they are in the water, you may want to avoid the water completely.

If the species is known to be box jellyfish, get emergency medical help immediately and rinse away the tentacles using hot water if possible. Remove any remaining tentacles with a gloved hand, stick, shell or tweezers. Be careful not to get the tentacles on yourself or on clothing.

Jellyfish tentacles can still sting even after they’ve been ripped from the body of the jellyfish. If you use bare hands to pluck tentacles off, you’ll most likely get stung on the fingers. The victim will keep getting stung until all the nematocysts are used up.

Have the victim either shower or immerse the sting in the hottest water they can stand.

Ibuprofen will help relieve pain. Mild itching may be helped with diphenhydramine.

The plain white distilled vinegar (acetic acid) like you would find in your kitchen has long been the standard first-aid treatment for jellyfish stings. Its use has become controversial, however vinegar is still recommended.

Most communities test beach waters. It’s a good idea to find out what the water quality is before you go in, because poor water quality can cause gastrointestinal distress.

Small children swimmers often contaminate pool water when they have a “fecal incident” in the water.

Chlorine and other disinfectants don’t kill germs instantly. That’s why it’s important for swimmers to protect themselves by not swallowing water while swimming.

To prevent pool infections:

  • Don’t swim if you have diarrhea
  • Shower before swimming
  • Go to the bathroom before swimming
  • Wash your hands before using the toilet
  • Don’t swallow water while you swim

Contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs and interactive fountains are common.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to