Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in children. But it’s a surprisingly silent killer; it doesn’t involve people screaming and waving their arms up until they gasp for that last breath. The reality is a lot different.
When someone, regardless of age, drowns, the event can be almost without sound. Whether it’s a pool, a lake or the ocean, a person who is drowning will often go unnoticed because the body’s response isn’t the loud flailing that you see on TV.
Since speech is a secondary function of the human body, yelling for help is also not part of the body’s response to drowning. Breathing is such a priority that a person who is drowning will often only be able to inhale and exhale while above water. Not scream for help.
Just because bad things can happen in and around the water doesn’t mean you have to avoid it. Here are some ways to be safe while you enjoy the water this summer.
Watching for water-related emergencies
If drowning doesn’t look like drowning, then what does it look like?
The thing the human body wants to keep going during a water-related emergency is the respiratory system. Breathing is such a big priority, a person who is in trouble will be able to do little else. Look for the following in someone who might be drowning:
- Watch for someone who is having a hard time keeping their head above water. Their head might be tilted back or their head might be staying low in the water at mouth-level.
- Gasping for breath. Someone who is bobbing in the water might be struggling to get a good breath. Keep an eye out for someone who is hyperventilating or struggling to get a breath.
- Not kicking. Kicking is not part of the drowning response. Someone who is struggling to stay up but isn’t using their legs probably needs help. Ultimately, if you’re not sure if someone is drowning, ask them! If they’re able to answer that they are alright, then there’s no need to worry. Someone who is not able to answer is going to need your help quickly.
- Staying safe around the water. It’s easy to create a false sense of safety around the water. Especially with kids. Between the floaty toys and the swim lessons, it would seem like the water would be a safe place to be. To make sure everyone is safe, try the following tips:
- Lock the gate. If you have a pool, make sure there is a fence and a locked gate around it. The harder it is to accidentally get to the area around the pool, the harder it is to trip and fall in.
- Assign safety shifts. When there’s a group at the pool or lake, make sure someone is in charge of watching for water-related emergencies. Assigning someone to the job will help ensure the safety person is taking their role seriously. If you’re going to be out for a long time, take turns so everyone is able to have time to relax and not be “on duty.”
- Breath-first CPR. There have been a few campaigns lately about “hands only” CPR. It’s true that this approach is better than nothing. And that applies to drowning victims as well. But if you’re able and willing to give breaths for someone who experienced a water-related emergency, give breaths before doing anything else. Someone who has been in the kind of respiratory distress caused by that kind of accident will need air right away.
The water can be a great place to relax and enjoy the summer. By being aware and following a few safety tips, it can be a safe place to relax and cool off.