12 WATER SAFETY TIPS
In warm weather, a lot of outdoor activities will include waterfront areas like the lake or beach. A dunk in the local water feature is refreshing, but puts many, especially children, at risk for injuries; of these, drowning is one of the most tragic.
Among those 14 years old and under, drowning is the second most common cause of injury-related death (car accidents are first). More than 800 kids die due to drowning mishaps every year, and thousands more sustain nonfatal injuries, sometimes involving significant brain damage.
WHAT PUTS YOU AT RISK FOR DROWNING
There are a number of factors which increase the risk of drowning. They include:
Poor swimming ability: Simply put, if you can’t swim, your chances of drowning increase.
Poor supervision: Drowning can happen relatively quickly and without a lot of noise. Even the presence of lifeguards may not save you on the beach, and unsupervised small children could die even in the bathtub.
Location: Although home swimming pools are the most likely places that young children drown, most adult drowning events occur in natural, boating, or wilderness settings.
Lack of Barriers: Pool fences that separate the pool from the yard reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83%.
Lack of Life Jackets: 88% of boating deaths by drowning involve people who weren’t wearing life vests.
Alcohol: The majority of deaths by drowning in adolescents and adults involve impaired judgment and coordination caused by drinking.
Seizure Disorders: Drowning, often in the bathtub, is the most common cause of death by injury for those with a seizure disorder (epilepsy).
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A DROWNING PERSON
The act of drowning if usually associated with non-swimmers screaming and thrashing about. This may, indeed, lead to drowning, but once begun, it’s as likely to be a silent event.
In the early stages, very little water enters the lungs due to a spasm of the windpipe that seals the airway. This prevents passage of water into the lungs, but also air. As a result, the drowning person is unable to call for help. Within a short period, they lose consciousness, leading to a set of reactions in the body that ends in cardiac arrest.
These reactions may appear unremarkable, but are important to recognize. They include:
- Forward position with the mouth at or below water level
- Alternatively, supine with head tilted back and mouth open
- Eyes glassy and open
- Gasping for air instead of yelling for help
- Swimming ineffectively
- Flailing arms and legs in a failed effort to rise out of the water
At this stage, the process may still be reversed with prompt and effective resuscitation. Survival rates depend strongly on the duration of immersion.
REACH, THROW, ROW, GO
At the beach or in the wilderness, you might encounter a distressed person in the water. Your first response will be to jump in and help. The victim, however, may be panicking and flailing around. To avoid injury and reduce the risk that you’ll become the next victim: Reach, Throw, Row, Go.
- Reach out to the person with a stick or oar.
- Throw the person a lifeline, life preserver, or other floating object.
- Row out to the person in a canoe or other boat if available.
- Go into the water only when there is no other option.
THE CHAIN OF DROWNING SURVIVAL
In circumstances where you encounter a person in trouble in the water:
- Shout for help.
- Remove the person from the water in a safe manner (Reach, Throw, Row, Go).
- In normal times, call Emergency Medical Services.
- Begin CPR, using both chest compression and rescue breathing. Chest compression alone is insufficient for drowning victims.
- If available, use an automated external defibrillator (AED) and assist in transport to a modern medical facility if possible.
12 TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE IN THE WATER
Here are 12 safety tips to keep your family safe from drowning mishaps:
- Take Swimming lessons: Don’t go into swimming-depth water if you don’t know how to swim. Swimming lessons are provided by many municipalities throughout the country, even for very young children. So are CPR classes, which are very important when it comes to aiding drowning victims.
- Keep strict supervision on minors: Children in the water should always be supervised by a responsible, sober adult. For preschool children, the adult should be close enough to touch the child and not involved in any other activity.
- Utilize the “Buddy System”: Everyone, even adults, should always swim with another person or persons.
- On the beach, beware rip currents: Know the meaning of flags on supervised beaches. High waves, discolored water, debris, and channels of water moving away from shore are signs of dangerous conditions. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore until free, then diagonally towards the beach.
- Foam “noodles” or inflatable toys don’t take the place of life jackets. Be firm about using the right equipment, even for adults.
- Pool fencing saves lives: Four-sided fencing 4 feet high with a high latch is the safest way to prevent small children from falling or jumping into the pool and getting into trouble. Don’t leave toys near the pool after swimming.
- Be aware of the weather: Thundershowers often whip up the water with strong winds, increasing the risk of drowning.
- Be physically fit: Swimming involves exertion, so make sure you’re up to the challenge.
- Avoid alcohol: Any water activity is more dangerous if you’re drinking.
- Don’t hyperventilate: Taking rapid deep breaths to see who can stay underwater longest may cause a blackout.
- Use the shower, not the bathtub, if you suffer from a seizure disorder. The odds of drowning are much lower if you avoid the tub. Any outdoor swimming activity should be done only with one-on-one supervision.
- In the wilderness, be wary of river crossings. Fast moving water may knock you off your feet, even if less than a foot deep.
Make that summer trip to the beach or lake memorable (in a good way) by knowing how to recognize and treat near-drownings. You’ll be glad you did.
Joe Alton MD
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