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What can you do to protect children from drowning?

Tips about swim safety from Dr. Rick Place, Medical Director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Inova Children’s Hospital (at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, VA). Dr. Place is a board certified physician in both Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics.

two toddlers with inflatable pool rings in the water

Water safety: What’s the big deal?

Once again, summer is upon us. Besides the hot, sticky days and afternoon barbeques are the hours spent lounging near the pool, going to the beach, or swimming and boating in rivers and lakes.

And that is why we need a refresher on water safety. Every year, 13,000 children are seen in the emergency room for drowning: 3,500 of them will die. Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children. Many of those who do not die are neurologically devastated.

First and foremost, never let a child swim alone and never take your eyes off of them while they are in the water.

Most drownings occur in unsupervised pools with a lack of fencing, most at home, with one or two parents who are out of sight for less than 5 minutes. Several years ago, I resuscitated a little girl who was rescued from the bottom of a pool at a party with many adults and other children nearby, which highlights another sobering fact: most drownings are silent.

What can you do to protect children from drowning?

  • For home pools, barrier fencing with a self-latching gate may be the most effective single preventative measure
  • The presence of lifeguards dramatically reduces the number of water rescues requiring medical attention.
  • US Coast Guard approved life-jackets and life-preservers should be kept at the poolside and should be used for all open water and boating activities.
  • The beach is an especially dangerous location; children may swim or wade out beyond safe rescue distances, and rip tides may pose deadly risks to both the person drowning and to the would-be rescuer
  • Two-thirds of drowning victims cannot swim

All caregivers should be trained in CPR, in the event that the worst happens.

SEVERE BREATHING DISTRESS: Children in obvious respiratory distress should be transported by ambulance to the nearest medical facility.

UNCONSCIOUS INDIVIDUALS: Basic Life Support should be immediately begun all on unconscious drowning victims. If the child is not breathing, CPR with rescue breathing should be initiated. Drowning persons may be revived with an initial FIVE rescue breaths; if unsuccessful, 30 chest compressions should followed by 2 rescue breaths repeatedly until breathing resumes or help arrives.

Management of water rescues for conscious victims depends upon severity of symptoms. A mistaken belief is that drowning is defined as death by breathing in water. In reality, it is any respiratory impairment experienced after submersion in water (World Health Organization); symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe. Any child who has had a submersion event who has respiratory symptoms or chest discomfort lasting more than a few minutes (beyond inevitable initial coughing and sputtering) should receive timely medical evaluation.

What about “delayed drowning”?

NO! The terms “dry drowning” and “delayed drowning” are not considered true events by medical experts. Children destined to experience injury from drowning will universally exhibit symptoms within 4-8 hours. If there are no symptoms within this time frame, children can be considered a “water rescue” and are safe.

Play it safe: Learn CPR

Inova offers a variety of CPR and First Aid classes in Northern Virginia.

Need emergency care fast?

In a serious emergency, call 911 or visit your nearest Emergency Room.

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