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Sharp Health News

Drowning prevention

July 13, 2017

Drowning prevention

According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide. In the U.S., drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in children ages 1 to 14. And in San Diego, it's the first leading cause for children ages 1 to 4.

Drownings peak in warmer seasons due to recreation activities, and usually occur in the mid- to late afternoon. This is due to higher temperatures and fatigue, which decrease your judgment about risks.

Dr. Karrar Ali, an emergency medicine physician affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medial Center, explains how to keep your children safe while enjoying the warmer temperatures this summer.

What are the differences between swimming at a pool versus in open water?
Avoid high-risk activities in both settings. Pools are confined spaces with known depths, but having a proper fence around them prevents toddlers from falling in.

Open water is unpredictable due to currents, plants and rocks. In addition, being on a boat can be an unstable platform so everyone onboard should wear a life vest. Under California law, children under age 13 should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket on a moving recreational vehicle.

How can parents prepare their children for water activities?
Parents should educate their children about any risks. A lack of supervision is usually to blame for drowning. Be sure there are chaperones — especially those with adequate swimming abilities and CPR training — when children are present.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends swim lessons as a layer of protection against drowning that can begin for many children starting at age 1. By their 4th birthday, most children are ready for swim lessons. But studies suggest that water survival skills training and swim lessons can help reduce drowning risk for children between ages 1-4.

Dr. Ali adds, "In addition to knowing how to swim, your children should know how to call for help if they witness a drowning."

What should people do if they encounter a child that could possibly be drowning?
Dr. Ali stresses the importance of not panicking. Get help for the child immediately. A medical professional should evaluate near-drowning victims, even if they appear well.

What are symptoms to look for after someone has experienced a near drowning?
Signs include difficulty breathing, a decrease in mental alertness, coughing and blue or pale skin color due to a lack of oxygen.

Many complications from near drownings can occur hours later, even if your child seems well initially. "They can aspirate water, which may cause difficulty breathing, or objects in their lungs could cause an infection," explains Dr. Ali.

What is dry drowning?
Dry drowning or secondary drowning occurs when your lungs are unable to extract oxygen from air. It can happen due to muscular paralysis, a stab wound to the torso that affects the diaphragm, or by holding your breath.

In water-related accidents, dry drowning accounts for 10 to 20 percent of injuries. A spasm of the larynx, followed by a lack of oxygen reaching the tissues, leads to a loss of consciousness.

When should someone possibly suffering from dry drowning seek help?
Get help immediately if there is difficulty in breathing or a change in mental status. The child needs to be observed for any decrease in status or organ failure.

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