Water safety and drowning prevention

Summertime fun is here! Everyone is outside playing and hanging out and ready for a refreshing dip in the pool, pond, or ocean. Let’s make sure everyone is prepared for how to be safe in the water. Let’s talk about water safety, drowning, and non-fatal drowning (or as some used to call it, “dry drowning”). Water safety is important for adults and teens as well as little children. Reviewing water safety education is important for a safe summer for all.

The National Safety Council reports that drownings are the second most common cause of preventable deaths in children under 15 years of age, and the most common in children 2 and under. Drownings can happen quickly. Here are some water safety and drowning prevention tips.

Learning to swim should be a priority for every family

Teach your family how to swim and how to exit the pool safely with age appropriate swim lessons. Teaching basic skills such as rolling to your back, floating, and identifying exits from a pool can be the difference between life and death. Even little toddlers should know how to exit a pool. Teach them to swing a leg over the side to help them get out. This is important in case they ever fall in unnoticed. It can make a difference.

Don’t go for a dip alone unless you know how to swim. Many people will go into the ocean or jump off of the diving board into a deep pool but have no idea how to swim to the edge. If you can’t swim or aren’t a strong swimmer, don’t swim in water over your head and always wear a US Coast Guard certified life vest.

Swim where there is a lifeguard present. A lifeguard isn’t a babysitter, so don’t take your eyes off your child or use the lifeguard as a safety net if you can’t actually swim. If you are swimming alone, don’t! Even if you are a strong swimmer, please make sure to take a buddy. Keep an eye on each other. Swimming can be a very enjoyable form of fun and exercise, but it is important to do it safely.

Pay attention when children are nearby or in the water

Pay close attention to the swimmer that you are watching. Checking a text message or turning your back for just a moment can turn a fun day into a tragic one. Keep your eyes on the water and be sure that you never leave the water area for any reason without taking your gang with you. 

Teach children to ask before going into the water so that a responsible adult is always aware when they want to swim. Also, never ask another child to watch your kiddos in the pool! Be sure there is an adult present at all times. A responsible adult should be within arms length of any child under five years old at all times.

Boating, currents, and open water safety

Open water safety is very important for all ages, as well. Always wear a life vest while doing any kind of boating, kayaking or water activity. A life vest can save you if you were to ever slip, hit your head, and fall into the water. Be sure to avoid alcohol and drugs when driving any type of boat.  

Do remember that oceans and lakes can have dangerous currents. Pay attention to how deep the water is where you are swimming, where the shore is, and where lifeguard stations are located. If you get stuck in a current, the best way to get out is to swim with the current and aim towards the shore while yelling and/or waving for help.  

In oceans, ponds and shallow pools, always jump in feet first as there is a risk of spinal cord injury (breaking your neck or back) if diving into water. If you can’t see the bottom clearly, it is hard to know if there is a rock or sandbar there. Sand can shift and a deep section on one jump may be shallow on your next jump, as the tides can change things quickly. Many accidents happen when people dive off boats and into an unknown sandbar or rock. Hitting your head can knock you unconscious, causing you to be unable to swim and leading to drowning. The impact can also cause a severe neck injury, resulting in a broken neck that can cause paralysis of some or all of your body, and in some cases, the inability to breathe.

Make a plan for who is watching the kids

Never assume that someone else is watching your child in the water. Just because your partner or friend is with you doesn’t mean they are watching your child. Make a clear plan on who is watching the child at any given moment. Some people call this person the “water watcher.” Print a water watcher card and pass it every 15 minutes if there are lots of children swimming. This designates the responsible watcher. Oftentimes when there are lots of adults around, that is when bad things happen. Everyone assumes that someone else is watching the kids. People get distracted. Be extra sure to keep your kiddos safe by putting life jackets on them especially at a gathering, and be sure to plan who is in charge of watching the kids.  

If you have a pool or hot tub, make sure there is a barrier or fence to keep the kids out. Most drownings in children under four years old occur in home swimming pools, according to healthy children.org. Keeping the pool secure and locked up when there is no adult around is so important. Pool covers should be tight so that no child can squeeze through the edge, and strong enough to hold a child that could run out onto the cover. Ladders should stay locked and inaccessible to children when there is no supervision. Water safety takes a village. Make a plan with your family, neighbors and friends. 

Know what to do in an emergency

If a child goes missing, check the water FIRST. Seconds count in a drowning, so be sure they are not in the water! If you have a pool, take a CPR course so that you can start CPR right away if needed. Keep a cell phone near the water so that you can call 911 in an emergency. 

Don’t hesitate to call 911 and have a child evaluated if they have been found underwater, hit their head in the water, are choking on water, have turned blue or appear in any distress. If you suspect that someone hit their head but they are still able to breathe, try to keep their head and neck still while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. 

What is dry drowning or non-fatal drowning?

There are two types of drowning: fatal and non-fatal drowning. Fatal drownings result in the person dying from lack of oxygen while underwater. Non-fatal drownings occur when the child has an incident where they are submerged or immersed but are rescued. Even children that have had a non-fatal drowning episode are at risk. This used to be more commonly called “dry drowning”. 

Symptoms of drowning most commonly appear immediately, but infrequently can develop subtly between 4 and 6 hours after the incident. Symptoms can range from persistent to worsening cough, tachypnea (fast heartbeat), vomiting, and mental status changes (acting differently or off). If, after a brief immersion event, children are persistently symptomatic or the parent is worried, they should be taken to the nearest emergency department for assessment. They should receive a complete examination and have their oxygen saturation checked. If symptoms go away completely, oxygenation is normal, and the child is doing well 6 to 8 hours after the incident, they can be safely discharged home with adequate follow-up care.

Symptoms to look out for when swimming that could indicate a near drowning event are: turning blue, trouble breathing or speaking, coughing, choking, pain in the chest and/or sleepiness after the event. If you notice your child struggling to breathe, their ribs popping out with breathing, color changes, they seem limp (like a wet noodle), or seem to be out of it, don’t wait, call 911 or have them checked out right away.

The CDC reports that ten people die from unintentional drowning every day. Be prepared. Know where the lifeguard is and don’t hesitate to call for help. Seconds count. If your child has been underwater for a prolonged period of time or if you are worried that someone may be drowning or appears to be missing, call 911 right away.

Enjoying summer should be safe and fun. You can always check in and chat with our nurses about your summer concerns or check out our blog on common summer issues like tick bites and sun safety to name a few.

The opinions expressed in Nurse-1-1 Health Center Blog are solely opinions of the writer. Other than information received directly by you from your personal provider, the health center blog should not be considered medical advice. Read more.

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