Water safety: What you should know about children drowning

ST. GEORGE – Drowning is among the top causes of accidental death worldwide, accounting for 7 percent of all injury-related deaths. In the United States, drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths of children of all ages – second only to motor vehicle collisions. Drowning can happen to anyone’s child, in an instant and right in front of you. With the weather heating up and swimming becoming more frequent, learn how you can build extra layers of protection for children around water.

On average, 3,533 people – more than 10 a day – die as a result of drowning each year, and most of those deaths are children under the age of 4, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drowning can happen quickly and in less than 1 inch of water. Most drowning accidents take place within close proximity to safety zones.

Backyard swimming pools were the most common places where children under 5 drowned. Older children and adults were most likely to drown in natural bodies of water, whereas infants under age 1 and adults older than 85 were most likely to drown in a bathtub, according to the report.

It is often difficult to recognize the signs when a child is drowning, even when you are near the child. There is very little splashing and no yelling or calls for help. The drowning victim is incapable of even shouting for help. Therefore, it is important to watch for drowning signs.

According to the CDC, the key factors that affect drowning risk are lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, location, failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use and seizure disorders. For persons with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk.

While drowning is among the leading causes of death, statistics show these tragedies are preventable in an overwhelming majority of cases when children and their guardians take well-established precautions.

Vital, standard water safety precaution steps

Learn to swim

Research has shown that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision is necessary when children are in or around the water.

Fence it off

Barriers, such as pool fencing, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. Every pool should be surrounded by a high four-sided isolation fence, with a childproof self–closing and self–latching gate, around backyard swimming pools. Pool fences should completely separate the house and play area from the pool.

Be on the lookout: Close supervision

Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water, such as bathtubs, swimming pools, buckets and even in the presence of lifeguards. A lifeguard makes for a safer water experience, but you are still the primary supervisor for children. Sometimes, everyone is looking but no one is watching.

When kids are in or near water, including bathtubs, closely supervise them at all times. Designate a responsible adult who can swim and knows CPR to watch swimmers in or around water. The supervisor should not be involved in any other distracting activity while watching children.

No other distractions: No conversations, talking on cellphones, reading books, putting sunscreen on another child and no alcohol use.

Learn life-saving skills

It is also important the supervisor be trained in basic lifesaving and resuscitation techniques. With immediate first aid and medical attention, a life can be saved.

Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR. In the time it might take for lifeguards or paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone’s life.

However, unlike the current method of CPR, a drowning victim needs immediate ventilation. Five quick breaths should be administered before starting cardiac massage on land. Two breaths and chest compressions should be alternated until professional help – called by a bystander – arrives. A working phone should be readily accessible.

CPR and first aid for a drowning victim does not include the Heimlich maneuver. Experts caution against using the Heimlich maneuver before starting CPR, which can cause regurgitation in a victim whose stomach is filled with water. You should perform this protocol only if positioning the airway and rescue breathing has failed, according to CPR certification HQ.

CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to save lives and improve outcomes in drowning victims, according to the CDC. The more quickly CPR is started, the better the chance of improved outcomes.

If the victim is young and the water is cold, according to the CPR HQ website, it is possible to revive a drowning victim, in spite of the fact that he or she has been under water for a long duration.

Make life jackets a “must” 

According to the CDC, the majority – 72 percent – of boating deaths that occurred during 2010 were caused by drowning, with 88 percent of victims not wearing life jackets.

Make sure kids wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, even if they know how to swim. Life jackets can be used in and around pools for weaker swimmers too.

Use U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets when boating, regardless of distance to be traveled, size of boat or swimming ability of boaters. Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as water wings, noodles or inner-tubes, in place of life jackets. These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

Avoid alcohol 

Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of emergency doctor visits for drowning and about one in five reported boating deaths, according to the CDC.

Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.

Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating or water skiing. When boating, safety risks from alcohol use are significantly increased.

Near-drowning accidents can also be fatal

A less well-known fact is that near-drowning or secondary drowning victims need immediate medical attention because accumulation of water in lungs – irrespective of the amount – can cause constant fluid accumulation, which is fatal.

Every near-drowning victim should be checked by a healthcare personnel, and this goes for a person who has been able to get revival.

Sometimes, near-drowning victims show symptoms, including vomiting, restlessness, confusion, chest ache, pale appearance of the victim, cold skin, bluish skin – mostly around the victim’s lips – abdominal distention, unconsciousness, lack of breathing, lethargy and coughing froth. Other times, they may appear to be breathing fine and show no symptoms at all, and then later die.

Time is of the essence in these situations; do not wait. It is crucial to get a near-drowning victim to a medical professional immediately.


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  • bob pratt May 31, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for a very informative article. Unfortunately the last section uses the outdated terms “near-drowning” and “secondary drowning” and should be revised to reflect the current terminology. In 2002 the World Health Organization clarified the definition of drowning. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/83/11/853.pdf
    It is important that everyone use the consistent terminology to avoid confusion.
    “Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death, morbidity and no morbidity.”
    We do not refer to heart attacks as “near Heart attacks”, nor strokes nor car crashes. Using the correct terminology allows researchers and educators to give clear information. “Near-drowning” has been used to describe a myriad of different situations. As such the term becomes meaningless unless the readers know the authors intent. Until we all, even the media, begin to use the correct words to describe drowning we will continue to pass on confusing messages.
    Please consider revising the otherwise excellent article.
    Bob Pratt
    Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project

    • Joyce Kuzmanic June 1, 2015 at 5:30 am

      If I understand you correctly, Mr. Pratt, you are offering, vis-à-vis the World Health Organization, that the term drowning should be used in conjunction with cases of both fatality and survival, when the occurrence properly meets the definition of respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. It’s an interesting consideration, one we have explored – whether or not the term drowning applies in cases of survival and in cases where the actual cause of death may be a subsequent but related physiological event.
      We aim at clarity so as not to confuse our audience; I see that the goal of the World Health Organization, according to the treatise you provide, also aims at clarity so as not to confuse the data.
      The Associated Press has expressed in its AP Stylebook in a 2014 answer from the editor: “Drowning means to die by suffocation in water. If the drowning victim is revived, he or she survived a near-drowning.” Perhaps the AP did not “get the memo,” as they say, or perhaps it favors use of the term only in the case of most common inference, fatal drowning.
      Either way, our goal is to raise awareness of risks that lead to drowning incidents, morbid or nonmorbid, perhaps contributing to a reduction in the incidence that the Centers for Disease Control currently ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.
      Thank you for your input, I trust it may inform how we craft our words in future reports.
      ST. GEORGE NEWS | StGeorgeNews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

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