Loud splashing and desperate attempts for air don’t always accompany fatal drownings. Sometimes, there’s no noise at all — which makes drowning all the more frightening and easy to miss.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Also, about one in five people who die from drowning are age 14 or younger. Backyard swimming pools, open water and even bathtubs are all environments where parents and guardians should monitor children to prevent possible drowning.
“A lot of people think about pools as a main source of drowning, and it’s definitely a high-risk area, but outdoor, man-made bodies of water like lakes, ponds, streams, and the ocean are also a threat,” says Alicia Webb, M.D., a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama. “A lot of the same things that apply to pool drownings also apply to these areas, particularly making sure that all children and adults know how to swim and are being supervised well.”
The best way to prevent drowning, Dr. Webb says, is to always have at least one pair of eyes on the child or children in the water. “No reading a book, not on your phone, not socializing — you need to be truly watching them,” she says.
Because drowning can happen in a matter of moments, parents and guardians should always be physically and mentally present while children are in pools or open bodies of water. Even if the child is a seasoned swimmer, the potential for drowning still exists. “Even for our ‘strong swimmers’ who parents don’t worry about drowning as much, kids can still drown at any age at any time,” Dr. Webb says. “So it’s really important to never leave kids unattended.”
There are several simple steps and precautions parents can have in place to safeguard against drowning. Namely, making sure all children are wearing a lifejacket while in open bodies of water is paramount. Summer in the South often entails popular water sports like tubing, wakeboarding and water skiing, and all of these activities are made safer by wearing a lifejacket.
“If you’re driving the boat, you need to make sure you’re paying attention and watching for smaller children. Even adults can look pretty small when they’re in the water and you’re on a boat,” Dr. Webb says. “Also, make sure you’re not mixing alcohol or drugs with boating activities. A lot of injuries occur when adults — even teenagers — are intoxicated around the water.”
If a child does begin to show signs of drowning and is struggling to stay above water, an adult — or any able-bodied swimmer — should immediately swim out to the child. Especially in open bodies of water like lakes and ponds, it’s important for the rescuer to have a lifejacket on and be carrying a buoyant device, too. Once the child is out of the water and on a dry surface, ensure they are breathing and have a pulse. “If the child is not breathing, and if someone around is CPR-certified, then early CPR can be lifesaving and really improve the outcome of a near-fatal drowning event,” Dr. Webb explains.
The main ways to safeguard against drowning are pretty simple, but they can be easy to overlook or forget. Make sure an adult is always watching, and never swim alone, Dr. Webb says. “Drowning tends to not look like it does in the movies, where it’s loud and there’s a struggle. It tends to be quick and silent,” she says. “That’s where supervision comes into play — since you won’t necessarily be alerted by a noise if you’re not paying attention.”
While the summer months continue to attract locals to pools, lakes and the beach, Dr. Webb urges folks to remember the dangers of drowning — how quickly it can happen and how simple it can be to prevent it. “Even if you think your child is a good swimmer,” she cautions, “stay vigilant and alert!”
This article is sponsored by Children’s of Alabama.