Each summer kids and families flock to nearby pools and waterparks to enjoy the cool water and a break from the heat. With drowning as the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 14, we all need to be aware of steps to prevent drowning. Trained lifeguards and vigilant adults are just two of the many elements in drowning prevention.
SIGNS OF DROWNING
“Drowning does not look like drowning.” We’ve all heard this, but what does it mean? To prevent drowning, we must understand the behaviors exhibited by a person in distress. Many untrained adults may expect a child to intentionally signal they are drowning, but that is rarely the case. Knowing the “Instinctive Drowning Response” can help differentiate between a child who is playing and a child who needs to be rescued.
1. Contrary to some movie portrayals of drowning, people often do not shout for help. Drowning is quiet and quick.
2. While a person who is drowning may flail their arms as they try to stay above water, they will not necessarily wave their arms intentionally to signal for help.
3. As their arms are moving in the lateral position, a drowning person’s head will alternate between being under water and above water. During the brief periods they are above water, the person will typically inhale and exhale as rapidly as they can. A risk here is that they will continue inhaling as their head goes back into the water, thus taking in water.
4. Drowning people typically remain upright in the water, as opposed to on their back, with no sign of a kicking “doggie paddle” motion to assist them.
5. According the United States Coast Guard, a person “can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”
6. A few other visual cues that a person may be drowning include:
- Head low in water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with open mouth
- Glassy eyes that are unable to focus or closed eyes
- Not kicking with legs
- Hair covering the forehead or eyes
- Gasping for breath or hyperventilating
- Inability to respond to the question: “Are you OK?”
STEPS TO PREVENT DROWNING
Whether your family is headed to a day at the pool or the beach, many simple steps can be taken to protect you and your children from drowning.
1. Learn how to swim – Even if your child only knows how to doggie paddle or float, equipping them with the skills to keep themselves safe in the water could save their life. Also, the more knowledgeable the child feels, the less likely they are to panic during aquatic distress.
2. Visit pools with trained lifeguards – Spending the few extra dollars to swim at a pool or beach that is monitored by a trained lifeguard could prove invaluable.
3. Alert the Lifeguard – If your child is not a strong swimmer, it is vital you share that information with the lifeguard. An extra step would be to introduce your child and the lifeguard so they can recognize each other.
4. Teach your children to follow pool rules – Does your child know how to respond to whistles? Does your child know deep-end or diving board etiquette? Ensure both you and your children understand all of the rules of the pool or beach.
5. Flotation devices – Always wear a lifejacket, especially as required by local laws, but do not rely on Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) as the only form of drowning prevention.
6. Recognize tiredness in children – After a long day of swimming, children can become exhausted faster than they realize. Their bodies may not respond appropriately to any aquatic distress they find themselves in.
7. Be aware of any physical hazards in the pool, lake, beach, or river – Partially hidden logs, broken pool ladders, etc. can catch swimmers by surprise. Obey any posted signs regarding beach or pool closures, as they may be a result of hidden hazards.
8. Pool Safety at Home – If you have a pool at a home, following simple protocols can prevent drowning accidents. Remove toys from the pool when they are not in use, so children do not try to retrieve them. Fence your pool in, and add a sound alarm to any pool gate. Keep emergency equipment, such as a safety ring and rope, near the pool at all times.
9. Receive training – While your best bet is always to call 9-1-1 in the event of an aquatic emergency, knowing CPR and First Aid yourself could be helpful. Take a class on aquatic safety.