Drowning is the number 2 cause of death for children under the age of 15, according to Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., water safety researcher and drowning expert. According to US drowning statistics, about half of all children who drown are within 25 yards of an adult. How does this happen? Mainly because most adults do not recognize drowning when they see it. We are prepared for natural disasters, but not for how to save our own children from drowning.
Movies and the media often portray a drowning person as a struggling, screaming person who is easy to identify. Unfortunately for parents, drowning rarely is such an audible, identifiably act. In fact, there are two ways that a child is likely to drown, and one doesn’t even take place at the pool.
By identifying the common signs of drowning parents can prepare to increase the safety of everyone in the water, kids and adults alike!
Signs of Drowning in the Water
According to Dr. Pia, when a person starts to drown, they usually engage the Instinctive Drowning Response. The Instinctive Drowning Response is how the body avoids using oxygen in an effort to avoid suffocation.
The Instinctive Drowning Response looks like this:
- Most drowning victims will not call out for help. Oxygen is saved for breathing, not speech.
- A drowning victim’s mouth will submerge and reappear above the water in rapid succession, but will usually not be above water long enough for the victim to get a breath. Usually, the person will be gasping or hyperventilating.
- A drowning victim is unlikely to wave for help because the body instinctively tries to raise the body above the water level.
- A drowning victim is unable to move or save him or herself. A victim’s limbs are not under voluntary control while drowning.
- A drowning victim remains upright in the water and shows no visible signs of kicking. It takes between 20 and 60 seconds to go from this stage to complete submersion under the water when suffocation starts to occur.
Before the IDR sets in, a person can suffer from aquatic distress, which is when the typical signs of thrashing, yelling, and waving occur. Always ask someone if they are all right when they show signs of aquatic distress. If they answer, they are not drowning (but still might be able to use a helping hand!). If they cannot answer, then true drowning is about to occur.
The book Water Safety (Living Well: How to Stay Safe) has more information you can read; and it never hurts to have a Lifeguard Whistle handy.
Signs of Dry Drowning
Dry drowning, or secondary drowning, has been in the media lately, thanks to a viral post; but it is actually extremely rare. Secondary drowning occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs after a person breathes water into the lungs. If the fluid is not drained properly, it can lead to breathing difficulties and brain injuries, which can be fatal. According to Web MD, dry drowning accounts for only about 1 percent of all drowning fatalities.
However rare, it is still important for moms to be able to identify the signs of secondary drowning, just in case! Signs of dry drowning include:
- Extreme fatigue after visiting the water.
- Visible signs of breathing trouble, a strange cough, or chest pain.
- Sudden and unexplained behavior changes.
Symptoms are most likely to occur between 1 and 24 hours after being in the water. Teaching children to blow water out of the mouth and nose after submersion is one of the easiest ways to cut down on the risk of secondary drowning.
All parents should watch for signs of secondary drowning after each visit to the water even if children did not appear to be under aquatic distress at any point.
The number one way to keep your children safe in the water is to watch them at all times! If you have a large brood, assign water buddies to ensure everyone stays safe in the water.
How do you stay prepared in the water?