Karla Robinson, MD
With summer temperatures on the rise, many families are turning to water related activities to beat the heat. Unfortunately, this time of year is also when we find an increase in water associated injuries, accidental drowning, and deaths. Whether bathing a toddler, enjoying a backyard pool, or vacationing at a beach, water safety should be a priority of every household before tragedy strikes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that African American school aged children drown at rates of up to three times that of Whites. There is no consensus as to the major contributing factor to this disparity. However, statistically it has been shown that African Americans as a community are the least skilled at swimming amongst all other racial groups, with an estimated 60% of African American children unable to swim.
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in preschool children, and the second leading cause of death in school aged children. Death by drowning occurs when water fills the lungs preventing the proper exchange of oxygen. As a result, oxygen is not delivered to the vital organs and can then lead to death. Nonfatal drowning can also be a source of significant long-term disability. Severe learning and memory deficits, as well as impaired basic functioning can result from prolonged water submersion and cause a significant loss of quality of life.
Swimming pools are not the only dangers, as nearly half of all reported drowning occurs in natural water settings such as rivers, lakes, and oceans, and most infant drowning occurs inside the home, according to the CDC.
Let’s make sure we are all doing our very best in keeping our children safe this summer around water. Review these drowning prevention tips and share them with another parent.
- Drowning is a quick and quiet process. Contrary to popular belief, the total time from water immersion to an unconscious state can be as little as one minute. There usually isn’t time for flailing arms and screams for help in an actual drowning, as it is usually portrayed. Never leave a child unattended near a body of water for any length of time.
- Don’t forget the household dangers. Infant drowning victims tend to drown in water-filled buckets or bathtubs. It isn’t always just the large body of water that poses the risk.
- Teach your children how to swim. This can be a life-saving measure that reaps many benefits. One of the best ways to prevent drowning is to make sure your loved ones are equipped with proper water skills.
- Take the proper precautions. Preschool victims tend to drown in swimming pools. Please make sure that the pools at your home and the homes that your children visit are properly gated and have restricted access to children.
- Instill a healthy respect of water in your children. School-age drowning victims tend to drown in larger bodies of water (i.e. lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, and oceans). Make sure your children understand the danger of water, particularly if they aren’t skilled swimmers.
- Survey the area. When swimming in natural bodies of water, recognize that the landscape may play a role in safety. If it is a rocky terrain, hidden drop-offs and dangerous obstacles may pose a huge risk. Head injuries are more likely to occur in these settings particularly if diving in the water instead of entering feet first.
- Beware of rip currents. Rip currents pose an unusual risk to all swimmers regardless of the level of experience. They are often seen along the coastlines and can rapidly pull swimmers into deep waters at rates of up to 8 feet per second. If there are large or choppy waves or other signs of a dangerous rip current, always swim parallel to the shore until it is safe to swim towards it.
- Water and alcohol don’t mix. Adolescents and adults have been shown to have the highest incidence of alcohol and drug related accidental drowning. It is important to avoid any form of impairment near water. There is a higher likelihood of accidents when boating, swimming, or supervising others if drugs or alcohol are involved.