It is the hight of summer and there is still a lot of swimming season ahead of us. I get calls and questions all the time in my CPR Classes in Atlanta about drowning. Parents want to know how to save a child and treat them in a drowning emergency. There are answers to these questions and also, a HUGE gap in how to spot a child that is drowning.
The two steps are to spot a drowning child – and then save the drowning child.
You can’t save them if you don’t know they are in trouble. So I will first cover what to really look for while watching your pool. It isn’t what you think!
I will then describe what to do if you see someone drowning.
Drowning doesn’t look like it does on TV.
Aquatic Distress is what we see on the screens. Splashing, yelling, panic, etc., happens, but more often than not drowning is hard to notice. If someone is in aquatic distress, you will easily notice it and take action.
Most of the time however, drowning is quiet. Drowning doesn’t catch your eye.
This makes drowning all the more insidious.
Instinctive Drowning Response
The Instinctive Drowning Response is the name for an automatic, involuntary state in which our bodies engage to prevent inevitable sinking. Unfortunately it isn’t very effective.
Drowning victims can’t shout, wave, swim or even grab things that may help. This makes it really hard to spot drowning if you aren’t looking for it. The victim is in a deadly auto-pilot state that is near paralysis.
We aren’t sure why our bodies do this, but it is what we do, so be aware!
Mario Vittone wrote a fantastic article about this and included signs of actual drowning.
Here is what you should be looking for while watching your kids in the pool:
• Head low in the water, mouth at water level
• Head tilted back with mouth open
• Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
• Eyes closed, hair over forehead or eyes
• Not using legs – Vertical
• Hyperventilating or gasping
• Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
• Trying to roll over on the back or trying to climb
Drowning, being a significant child killer worldwide, can often be prevented by taking a few easy steps.
I would highly recommend even before you grab that last shady table
- Take a look around and locate the shepherds crook – you know, the long thing with the wire curve on the end for fishing people out of the water.
- Get a visual on the ring buoy too.
- Have your kids wait if the pool is just too crowded.
- Make sure the lifeguards know you are expecting them to pay attention.
What To Do in Case of Drowning
If you see this signs of drowning – immediately do the following:
- Scream for help – don’t be shy
- Get a flotation device or something with which to reach to the victim
- CALL 911 before you go any further. You can dial 911 and hand your phone to a bystander. The bystander may not want to call, but they won’t hang up!
- If you have a flotation device, swim out behind the victim
- Place your arms under the victim’s armpits keeping the flotation device between your chest and their back
- Talk to them, reassure them – slowly swim them to the edge
- If they are breathing, lay them on their side
- If they aren’t breathing – start pushing hard (all the way to the ground) and fast (2 per second) – Don’t stop till they get better, an AED arrives or the ambulance gets there – DON’T GIVE UP
- IF YOU AREN’T A SWIMMER, stay out of the water and be in charge of getting help to the victim ASAP
Be aware of the real signs of drowning, know where the emergency equipment is before sitting down, know what to do in case there is an emergency!
Of course getting certified in American Heart Association CPR will give you practice and knowledge that will help if things go really wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes they do.
Here are some worldwide facts from the WHO on drowning:
- Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.
- There are an estimated 372 000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.
- Global estimates may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem related to drowning.
- Children, males and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning.