FEATURE — Summer is right around the corner and so is the heat, inviting cool-down dips in the pool and trips to Lake Powell. But are you prepared with the right knowledge to keep your family safe near water?
Drowning is the third leading cause of injury-related death for Utah children, 1-14.
Before you think your inflatable backyard pool is the only safe option for kids, it’s important to know that water can be dangerous at any depth, from a shallow inch to the deeps of lakes and sea.
Water is risky business.
Family physician Jon Hubbard, of Revere Health St. George Clinic, said, “It’s all too easy to underestimate the risk that any body of water poses.”
The risk factors are different for children based on their ages:
- Infants left unattended in a bathtub can inhale even the smallest amounts of water.
- Toddlers unsupervised or undersupervised can wander off and fall into a body of water (pool, river, pond, lake, et cetera).
- Teens, even when accompanied by friends, can overestimate their swimming abilities and take unnecessary risks due to peer pressure; this can lead to a “witnessed” drowning where friends or family are unable to rescue them.
To prevent drowning, “the same rules apply for driving as they do around the water,” Hubbard said.
1. Swimming lessons and supervision.
You wouldn’t let your child drive your car until they know how to drive and the same goes for swimming.
Children who have gone through swimming lessons are significantly less likely to drown. Lessons teach children valuable techniques that keep them safe in the water.
Even when children have received swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision is still important. A responsible adult who can swim should always be ready to help in case of any trouble.
2. Medications and health issues.
You wouldn’t drive while under the influence of certain medications or when you are experiencing certain health issues and the same caution applies when you and your children will be around water.
If someone has a history of seizure disorders, such as epilepsy, or suffers from fainting related to low blood pressure, for example, they need to be extra careful around water because these heighten their risks in the presence of water.
Likewise, mixing medications and water activities can be dangerous for adults and children.
“Always check warning labels on any medication before swimming,” Hubbard said. “If you are taking pain medications, sleep aids or certain kinds of antidepressants and antipsychotics, there is a chance they can make you drowsy. If they do, stay out of the water.”
3. Wear a life jacket.
Seat belts are important for driver’s and passenger safety. Likewise, life jackets are necessary safety tools in any body of water, whether a lake or an ocean, and they aren’t just for kids and weak swimmers.
According to the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association, “Nine out of 10 drowning incidents occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety and involving boats under 20 feet long.”
Most of these incidents could have been prevented if the person was wearing a life jacket. Wearing one could easily save a person’s life in a dangerous situation, no matter how strong a swimmer they are.
4. Alcohol consumption.
Just like driving inebriated, water and alcohol don’t mix.
Alcohol impairs judgment, increasing the risk of drowning. If you need to quench your thirst, reach for a water bottle instead.
It may seem obvious that driving when weak or dizzy is a risky proposition. Swimmers, though, may develop weakness, dizziness and, in extreme cases, fainting … all because of dehydration.
Swimming dehydrated is dangerous.
“Even though you’re in water, you can still get dehydrated,” Hubbard said. “Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.”
Parents should always have drinking water on hand and make sure their kids are getting enough to drink while playing in the water.
Signs of drowning.
Drowning doesn’t happen like you see in the movies. Rarely will you see flailing arms or hear screams for help. The reality of drowning is often much different, and if you don’t know what to look for, drowning can often be missed.
Someone who is drowning usually can’t shout for help and has few opportunities to inhale and exhale.
If someone in the water shows any of the following signs, they could be drowning.
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level.
- Head tilted back with mouth open.
- Eyes unfocused or closed.
- Hair over forehead or eyes.
- Not using legs.
- Hyperventilating or gasping.
- Trying to swim but not making progress.
- Appearance of climbing an invisible ladder.
What to do when you spot someone drowning.
If someone is drowning, get help immediately. Notify a lifeguard or have someone call 911.
On your own or with the help of others, get the person out of the water as safely as possible. Check for breathing and a pulse, and if there is no pulse, begin administering CPR.
A near-drowning experience can still be dangerous or even fatal to the victim if water accumulates in the lungs. If a person who nearly drowned experiences coughing, chest pain, trouble breathing or a drop in energy levels, seek medical attention immediately. Time is of the essence.
Knowing how to react is important, but knowing methods to prevent drowning is the best way to keep yourself and your children safe from harm.
“Make sure your kids are always supervised (in the water),” Hubbard said. “Careful vigilance can make all the difference.”
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