Do you know what drowning looks like?
Unintentional drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents). Approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.
You probably are thinking, "How can the parent not know with all the splashing and yelling for help?" That is because TV makes us think that is how someone drowns, but actually it is almost always a very quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television and movies) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.
The Instinctive Drowning Response, named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. In an article written for the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, he described the instinctive drowning response like this:
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
- Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
- Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
- Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
- Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
- From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
- Eyes closed
- Hair over forehead or eyes
- Not using legs – Vertical
- Hyperventilating or gasping
- Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
- Trying to roll over on the back
- Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
The CDC also has a lot of wonderful information about water safety and I wanted to share the information about drowning prevention. Here are some important tips to follow to prevent drowning.
- Supervision when in or around the Water. Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision”, be close enough to reach the child at all times. Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children. Buddy System. Always swim with a buddy. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards whenever possible.
- Seizure Disorder Safety. If you or a family member has a seizure disorder, provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming pools. Consider taking showers rather than using a bath tub for bathing.
- Learn to Swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when children are in the water, and barriers, such as pool fencing, to prevent unsupervised access are necessary.
- Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In the time it might take for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone’s life.
- Do Not Use Air-Filled or Foam Toys. Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as "water wings", "noodles", or inner-tubes, in place of life jackets (personal flotation devices). These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
- Avoid Alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.
If you have a swimming pool at home:
- Four-Sided Fencing. Install a four-sided pool fence that completely separates the house and play area of the yard from the pool area. The fence should be at least 4 feet high. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of reach of children. Also, consider additional barriers such as automatic door locks or alarms to prevent access or notify you if someone enters the pool area.
- Clear the Pool and Deck of Toys. Remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
If you are in or around natural bodies of water:
- Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.
- Use U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets when boating, regardless of distance to be traveled, size of boat, or swimming ability of boaters.
- Know the meaning of and obey warnings reporesented by colored beach flags, which may vary from one beach to another. (Flag color infomation available on their website HERE.)
- Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents (e.g., water that is discolored and choppy, foamy, or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore). If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore; once free of the current, swim toward shore.