"The ability to swim is not an important correlate of drowning since most victims of drowning are able to swim."
Michael S. Pollanen
(author of "Forensic Diatomology and Drowning")
As June approaches, our thoughts turn to summer with anticipation and excitement. Memories of cookouts, ice cream, lemonade and children splashing in the pool bring back our own childhood.
But, unfortunately for some, summer memories may come with a black cloud of sadness if a friend or loved one suffered an accidental water-related injury.
This is a topic that is very somber to me. I would characterize my swimming competency as average and I have enjoyed both swimming and snorkeling for years. It was nearly eight years ago, while snuba diving (a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling) off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico, when I nearly drowned. It reminded me to respect both the natural beauty and the potential danger of the sea.
More than one in four fatal drowning victims are children 14 years old or younger. In 2005 there were 3,582 fatal drownings in the US alone. That is an average of 10 deaths per day.
Drowning doesn't only occur in pools. According to the US Product Safety Commission, nearly a third of children under the age of 5 can drown in other potentially hazardous locations around the house, such as bath tubs, toilets, even a bucket of water or fluid. Remember that it takes only a small amount of water / fluid that covers the nose and mouth, preventing normal respiration, for drowning to occur.
So, what are the major risk factors for drowning? Lack of barriers and fencing around pools, lack of supervision of children around tubs and residential swimming pools, alcohol use, lack of appropriate choices while recreational boating and swimming, and seizure disorders.
What can be done to prevent water related injuries? For pool safety, it is recommended to install a four-sided isolation pool fence that completely separates the pool from the house and any yard play areas. The fence should be at minimum of four feet high and designed to be difficult to climb. Self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward are also recommended. Ensure that the latch is out of reach of children.
Be sure to remove any balls, floats or other toys from the pool area that may attract children to enter the pool area or lean over the pool and potentially fall in. Never swim alone, always swim with a buddy and try to choose areas where a lifeguard is on duty.
Avoid alcoholic beverages before or during any water activity. Learn to swim and how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Please be aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend relying on swimming classes as the primary method of drowning prevention in children less than 4 years of age. Adult supervision along with the above barrier fencing is necessary even after successful completion of swimming lessons.
Do not rely on foam or air-filled toys like "water noodle, or water wings" in place of life jackets, as these are toys and not designed for safety.
Most important is to designate a responsible adult to supervise young children when in or around water. Also, ensure that this person not be involved in any other distracting activity such as talking on the phone, playing cards or reading. While supervising children around a pool area, and a child is missing, always check in the pool first before any other place. The time of resuscitation is critical, as the human brain may survive without any severe neurologic complications only for a few minutes. After this, there can be progressive deterioration and the likelihood for survival becomes bleak.
When around natural bodies of water, make sure you know the local weather forecast before boating or swimming. Lightning, thunderstorms and strong winds can be dangerous. Always wear life jackets while boating. Learn the meaning of and obey any warnings signaled by colored beach flags. Beware of dangerous waves and signs of rip currents (choppy, foamy, discolored, or water that is full of debris moving in a channel away from shore). If caught up in a rip current, swim parallel to shore, then once free, swim toward the shore.
So, let's all work together and take care of one another, be vigilant around pools and other recreational summer activities so we may forge more wonderful and safe memories of summer fun.