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Don't let kids drink pool water

Updated: Jul 26, 2014 02:13 PM
© Hemera / Thinkstock © Hemera / Thinkstock

(HealthDay News) -- Pools can provide much-needed relief from the summer heat, but kids can make themselves sick if they swallow too much chlorinated water, experts warn.

Amid the splashing and excitement, it's common for little ones to get water in their mouth. Some kids may even take a drink from a pool, despite warnings from their parents.

Although swallowing a small amount of pool water is harmless, it's important for parents to realize that ingesting too much can lead to chlorine poisoning or so-called recreational water illness, according to Dr. Sampson Davis, an emergency room physician at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in New Jersey. Kids can also inhale water into their lungs, Davis added, which can lead to a serious condition called secondary drowning.

Recreational water illnesses can also be serious. Pool water contains chlorine -- a chemical used to help get rid of bacteria such as E. coli and parasites. Chlorine may not eliminate all of these germs, so if children swallow pool water they could become sick, Davis said.

If parents and caregivers are aware of these risks, they can take steps to prevent them from happening. By being aware, parents can also recognize warning signs and seek immediate medical attention, Davis added.

To help parents protect their children, Davis advised parents to watch out for the following symptoms that could develop within a few hours or up to 72 hours after swimming:

The first signs of trouble usually include:

  • Upset stomach and vomiting
  • Persistent cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fatigue

As the hours pass, recreational water illness, chlorine poisoning and secondary drowning become more distinct conditions with more specific and severe symptoms, noted Davis.

Recreational water illness and chlorine poisoning may lead to digestive distress, such as abdominal cramping and diarrhea. These conditions may seem like a bad case of food poisoning or stomach flu.

Chlorine poisoning may also cause symptoms in the nervous and respiratory systems. Children may experience trouble with their vision. Swelling and burning may also develop in their eyes, throat, nose and ears.

Secondary drowning has a greater effect on the respiratory system. Children will experience trouble breathing and have heavy, wet-sounding, persistent coughs. They will also develop uncontrollable shivering as well as hot and cold flashes.

Children who have any of these symptoms should be taken to an emergency room immediately.

Davis offered the following tips for warding off trouble:

  • Once a child is finished swimming, check for redness and irritation around the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. This could be a sign that chlorine levels were too high.
  • Listen for a nagging cough. If a child who has been swimming develops a cough that does not go away, it could be a sign that the child swallowed too much water or inhaled it.
  • Be on alert for flu-like symptoms. If a child develops symptoms of the flu or food poisoning after swimming, seek immediate medical attention.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about swimming pool safety.

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