Drowning prevention: How to stay safe in the water
July 25th is National Drowning Prevention Day. Prisma Health brought in Dr. Kerry Sease, a pediatrician based in the Upstate, and Dr. Robert Hubbird, pediatric intensivist based in the Midlands, to discuss drowning prevention and how parents and caregivers can keep their kids safe in the water.
Drowning is the number one cause of death for infants and toddlers aged 1-4. The adults and caregivers in a child’s life can help prevent this tragedy from occurring by knowing some basic facts on drowning prevention.
Dr. Kerry Sease explained the five layers of drowning prevention as described by the National Drowning Prevention Alliance:
- Barriers and alarms: This could be as simple as a fence around a pool with a gate that little fingers can’t unlatch. In addition, an alarm that goes off when the gate is opened can help a parent to know in time when their child might be getting too close to the water. Pool safety covers are also a relatively inexpensive way to prevent drowning.
- Supervision: While there may be a lifeguard, their job is to watch for emergencies through the entire pool area. It’s the caregiver’s job to keep an eye on their own child, even in shallow water. Keep close, constant supervision over your child.
- Water competency: A child who knows how to swim, or at least how to float, is a child more likely to maintain safety in and around the water. Every child and adult who enters the pool, lake or ocean should have basic knowledge and water-safety skills.
- Life jackets: If you’re out on a boat over open water especially, life jackets are not optional. They’re essential. Be sure everyone has a life jacket that fits securely. Specialized life jackets are available for infants and toddlers.
- Emergency preparation: Everyone wants to believe that the worst could never happen to them, but unfortunately, sometimes emergencies do. Practice emergency preparedness, including learning CPR and basic water rescue skills. Ensure everyone who might be anywhere near the water knows what to do in case of an emergency.
Dr. Robert Hubbird, who has worked extensively with children in the pediatric ICU, spoke on the difference between dry drowning and secondary drowning, a common question asked by parents about water safety.
“Basically, when a child is submerged, as water enters the back of the throat and touches the vocal chords, they’ll slam shut. This defends and blocks off the entrance to the lungs, but it leaves the infant unable to breathe and they may go into respiratory failure. This is ‘dry drowning’. Water has not entered the lungs, but it has caused the child to stop breathing. With secondary drowning, also called delayed drowning, happens when the child has lost enough oxygen that the vocal chords relax. Water can enter the lungs, then, and 1fluid builds up, causing pulmonary edema. They may not have trouble breathing immediately, or simply cough a little.”
Parents should keep a close eye on children who were submerged in water but seem initially to be fine. Symptoms of delayed drowning like changes in skin color, unusually fast breathing, a sudden increase in coughing, the chest ‘sucking in’ while trying to breathe, changes in mental status or a sudden decrease in appetite are all signs of secondary drowning and your child should receive prompt and immediate attention by medical professionals.
Dr. Hubbird and Dr. Sease answered these and many other questions regarding drowning prevention and child safety in and around water, including:
- How are children treated for dry drowning or secondary drowning?
- What are the five signs of drowning to watch for?
- At what age should a child learn to swim?
- Can older adults take swimming lessons, too?
- What is a ‘diving reflex’ in babies and toddlers?
- How can an adult teach their child about the dangers of drowning without making them too fearful?
- Do floaties or ‘water wings’ give a false sense of safety, or do they actually provide a safety benefit?
- Should parents try to buy bright, neon-colored bathing suits for kids to help with visibility?
- Should there be a ‘designated watcher’ at the pool keeping an eye on children at all times?
- And more
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