With warm weather upon us, many families are spending a lot of time in and around water. But with reports of a spike in the number of drowning deaths among young children sparking a renewed public debate over the safety of cheap inflatable pools in particular, it may be time for parents to review the rules of water safety.
“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children ages one to four, in part because it can happen so quickly,” said American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) spokesperson Dr. Linda L. Lawrence, who cited a new report from the Consumer Product and Safety Commission which found that the annual number of drowning deaths involving children under age five had increased to 283 for 2003-2005, up from 267 in 2002-2004. Most of these deaths and injuries occur in homes and yards, and involve children under age two, according to the report.
“It only takes a few seconds for a child to drown, and small children can drown in just a few inches of water — in a bathtub, a toilet or a bucket,” Dr. Lawrence added. “Moreover, for every child who drowns, more than 10 children are treated in emergency departments for near drowning.”
Because of these dangers, parents need to keep a close eye on their children when they are near any water sources, especially pools, streams, lakes or at the beach. In addition, parents need to know the limits of their child’s ability to swim and to set firm ground rules for play around the water, and to never leave kids unsupervised.
Finally, while drowning occurs most often among small children and people who can’t swim, “even experienced swimmers may be susceptible, depending on weather conditions, water currents, their health and other circumstances,” added Dr. Lawrence.
Pool Safety Tips
Before your family ventures out into the water this summer, keep in mind the following safety measures:
- Never leave babies or young children unattended near tubs, pools or buckets of water – even for a few seconds.
- Teach your children to swim.
- Never allow children to swim alone or without adult supervision. They should only swim in places that are supervised, and preferably with a lifeguard on duty.
- Install safety fences with child-proof latches around swimming pools.
- Remind children never to dive into unfamiliar water.
- Never drink alcohol and swim.
If your family is at the beach, you should also take the following additional precautions:
- Check with lifeguards about surf and beach conditions before going in the water.
- Make sure children swim or surf only in designated areas.
- Obey warning signs regarding dangerous swimming areas.
- Don't overestimate you or your child’s swimming ability, especially in bodies of water that may have dangerous currents or riptides. Never depend on flotation devices for your child’s safety.
- Encourage your children to avoid cliff edges, stay behind fences and obey warning signs.
To prevent ending up in the emergency department as a result of your next boating trip, ACEP recommends the following safety advice:
- Tell someone when you're going, who is with you and how long you'll be away.
- Before starting your engine, open hatches, run the blower, and most importantly, carefully sniff for gasoline fumes in the fuel and engine areas.
- When changing seats, stay low and near the center line of a small boat.
- Always wear life jackets and carry first aid equipment.
- Monitor the weather carefully for signs of a storm.
- Never drink alcoholic beverages on a boat. Being "tipsy" can result in falling overboard. Your ability to swim safely or call for help is greatly reduced as alcohol slows reactions.
What to Do In Case of Drowning
If a person appears to be drowning (e.g., is flailing in the water, yelling for help, coughing or going under, or appears to be unconscious or floating in the water), check the area, alert a lifeguard if one is nearby, then call 911 or your local emergency number. In addition:
- Do not attempt to rescue a drowning person while in the water yourself unless you are trained to do so and have lifesaving equipment. People who are drowning may panic and pull you underwater with them; dangerous circumstances — such as strong currents or rip tides — may also endanger you.
- If possible, reach out with or throw an object that floats to the person from a secure out-of-water position, such as a boat, a swimming pool ladder or a dock.
- For a person pulled from the water, tilt the head back, lift the chin and check for breathing and other signs of life. Expel fluid or other objects from the mouth.
- If the person is not breathing, give two slow rescue breaths. If rescue breaths go in, give cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If rescue breaths do not go in, reposition the airway and reattempt.
- Continue uninterrupted CPR until advanced life support is available.