by: Michael Kabel

Swimming pools are one of the most traditional – and eagerly awaited – events of summer. For families with their own backyard pools, it's only a matter of waiting until the weather warms up enough to jump right in. Families with smaller children and toddlers (possibly new additions to the family) need to take precautions when letting their little ones around the pool. And for the older children, the presence of a new baby in the family is cause for some extra awareness.

Basic pool safety for toddlers and small children

First and foremost, small children and children who cannot swim should never be allowed around the pool unsupervised. Parents should also install a childproof fence with a spring-loaded, childproof lock around the pool in case toddlers wander out to the pool area when their caretaker isn't looking.

Children taken into the water should wear tight-fitting bathing suits without frills or other decoration that could promote a choking hazard or weigh the child down in the water. Parents should keep children within arm's reach at all times.

Despite some popular belief, the use of flotation aids such as water wings or floating boards is not a substitute for swimming skills or parental supervision, and children can still drown if the devices malfunction. All water toys and floatation aids should be packed away and secured when the pool is not in use.

Babies in diapers should not enter the pool.

Babies should not wear diapers in the pool because a bowel movement may allow bacteria such as cryptosporidium to escape into the water. Cryptosporidium can cause severe diarrhea that lasts for weeks, even in normally healthy people. If a child does have a bowel movement inside the pool, all other swimmers should vacate the water immediately and extra chlorine or sterilizing chemicals should be added.

When children can learn to swim

Experts recommend children take swimming lessons from licensed instructors. These classes are often available at local health clubs, the YMCA, and community swimming pools. As a rule of thumb, children can begin learning to swim about the same time they learn to ride a bike – about age five or six.

Treating and preventing swimmer's ear

Swimmer's Ear happens when a common germ infects the ear canal. Excessive moisture such as pool water left in the air after swimming weakens the skin lining of the ear that normally repels such infectious agents. The condition can last several days and become extremely painful.

Parents should recognize that swimmer's ear, or otitis externais not the same condition as childhood middle ear infection. Children with Swimmer's Ear should not swim with their ears uncovered while the infection heals, but wearing a swim cap over the ears offers sufficient protection.

The Center for Disease Control recommends preventing Swimmer's Ear by pouring several drops of an alcohol based product into the ears after swimming. Parents should not use cotton swabs, fingers or other prods to attempt to scoop water out of the ear; this may scratch the ear canal and provide a further site for microbial infection.

To prevent Swimmer's Ear, other experts suggest mixing equal parts ethanol and white vinegar into a solution, and treating the ears both before and after swimming. This is not a remedy, however, and should not be used to treat ear infections.