Summer is on its way. We’ll soon be visiting lakes and pools to cool off from the heat. Unfortunately drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in children between ages 1 and 4. It continues to be a top cause of unintentional death among other age groups through the early adult years. Fortunately there are many precautions we can take to help lower the risk.
I wrote about Sun and Water Safety last summer, and want to remind everyone about the risks of drowning. I also wrote about Dry Drowning previously, but it seems that it isn’t really a thing – see the addendum in that post.
What are the risks?
About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. Each year about 300-500 children under 5 years of age drown.
For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Even though they’re not fatal, they have significant consequences.
Over half of drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization for further evaluation and treatment. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and a permanent loss of basic functioning.
What increases the risks?
- Lack of Swimming Ability: Many adults and children report that they can’t swim. Swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children. See the link at the bottom for more on swim lessons.
- Lack of Barriers: Barriers, such as pool fencing and alarm systems, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area. A 4-sided fence reduces a child’s risk of drowning 83% compared to 3-sided fence with the house as the forth side. A great guide on barriers is from the US Consumer Protection Service.
- Lack of Close Supervision: Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water. This includes bathtubs, swimming pools, pet water bowls, and buckets. This is why non-swimming times account for most drowning accidents.
- Location: Most children 1-4 years of age drown in home swimming pools. More than half of the drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings, such as lakes.
- Failure to Wear Life Jackets: Most boating deaths are caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.
- Alcohol Use: Among adolescents and adults alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation.
- 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.
How can you recognize drowning?
Movies show people splashing around and yelling for help as they drown.
Don’t let that fool you. Movies are not reality.
Signs of drowning:
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- 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
- Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
- Trying to roll over on the back
Most drowning victims are silent. They don’t splash to get your attention. Watch this video from Inside Edition that captures several drowning victims:
Teach water safety
Learn how to swim and teach your children to swim as well. If your child(ren) are good swimmers, be sure to still have rules about pool use and limit pool access. Even strong swimmers can drown. See the link in the resources below for infomation on swim lessons.
No one should swim alone. If your children are not able to follow that rule, the pool should not be accessible to them. Gates and alarm systems can be used to limit access to home pools and hot tubs.
Not all teens are safe swimmers, but they don’t often fess up to their friends. They are also at risk of making impulsive decisions to drink alcohol near water, forego their life vest on a boat, jump off a cliff into water, or other things that could put them at risk. Talk to your teens about safety – in and out of the water! Encourage teens to learn CPR.
Water safety in easy-to-see graphic form
Making home water safer
All pools should have a 4 foot fence around all sides. This includes below-ground pools as well as portable pools. It is much less safe to use the house as one of the borders, since young children can escape out the door and into the pool, but if you must use your home, take precautions. Install an alarm system to alert you if the door to the pool area is opened. Use a pool or spa cover when the pool or spa is not in use.
A short word on portable pools. They can include inexpensive blow up pools and larger pools. Portable pools present a real danger to young children because they are often not seen as a threat. Portable pools account for 10% of the total drowning deaths for children younger than 15 . They should be drained, covered, or fenced to protect children. Don’t leave them in the yard unattended.
Ask neighbors to put a proper barrier around their pools or hot tubs.
Ensure any pool or hot tub (spa) you use has anti-entrapment safety drain covers.
Have life saving equipment such as life rings, floats or a reaching pole available and easily accessible.
It’s not just pools that are risks…
Bowls and buckets
Keep pet water bowls out of reach of young children.
Drain any buckets of water after they’re used.
Close bathroom doors and toilet lids to keep young ones from playing in the water.
Monitor young kids and those with seizure risks in the bath the entire time. Do not leave the room even for a few moments.
Don’t read or check your phone when you’re watching kids in the tub, just like at the pool.
Drain the bath tub before young kids even get out. This not only helps your kids not climb back in (a common reason to need stitches when kids slip trying to climb in), but it also prevents them from drowning in left over water.
Teen drowning can be prevented with safety measures: Teens don’t always follow the rules. Their impulsivity and thrill seeking behaviors put them in a unique risk for dangers.
For pool barrier guidelines and suggestions, see the Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools Preventing Child Drownings from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. This is important for all pools and hot tubs, including portable pools.
Pool Dangers and Drowning Prevention – When It’s Not Swimming Time: Remember to keep all pools, tubs, and buckets of water secure at all times.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS)