As drowning ranks second as a cause of death for young children, here’s how parents can prevent accidents or intervene when kids are playing in or near the water.
In the U.S., drowning ranks second as a cause of death from unintentional injury in children ages 1 to 14, says Shannon Morken, aquatics coordinator at the Siegel JCC in Wilmington.
“Kids ages 1 to 4 have the highest rate, and most of these happen in home swimming pools,” she says.
Whether you’re at the beach, pool or waterpark, your best defense is to teach your child how to swim (as early as 6 months old) and to be trained in first aid CPR. Here, she shares what other precautions you should take when playing in or near the water, warning signs (“a big misconception is that drowning victims can scream for help,” she says) and what to do if a child is drowning.
- Make sure your child is swimming near a lifeguard. If you’re in a backyard pool, someone should always be watching. Medical emergencies can happen to even experienced swimmers.
- Inexperienced swimmers should wear a puddle jumper (wings can slip off) and always be within arm’s reach.
- If you have a home pool, use two barriers of protection, such as a locked fence and pool cover.
- If a child goes missing at home, the pool should be the first place you look. Drowning can happen in seconds.
- Distressed swimmers are often able to wave and call for help. They may still try to swim but make little or no forward movement while struggling to keep their head above water. Distressed swimmers become active drowning victims.
- Active drowning victims are conscious but are unable to call out for help. Every ounce of energy is expended on getting their head above water for one extra breath; after they get it, they’re back under water. They may be at the top, middle or bottom of the pool.
- A passive drowning victim’s airway as been submerged, and they are completely limp and unresponsive.
What to do
- Pull the victim out of the water as quickly as possible, making sure that you’re not putting yourself in danger. (Otherwise, there are possibly now two drowning victims and no one has called for help.)
- If you’re alone, call 9-1-1. If there are other bystanders, tell someone else to do this while you’re helping the victim from the water.
- Don’t know CPR? 9-1-1 will walk to you through it until help arrives.
Lifeguards are trained to recognize and reach a victim within 30 seconds, and rescue and provide emergency care within one minute, 30 seconds, Morken says. “If the first breath is given within the first minute and a half of their airway becoming submerged, they have the highest change of survival.”
Published as “Water Safety” in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of 302Health magazine.