In this essential post for parents, find drowning prevention guidelines from our pediatricians.
Drowning rates have been steadily declining since the 1980s; however, drowning continues to be the 2nd leading cause of death for children ages 1-19. Only congenital defects for children ages 1-4 and motor vehicle accidents for children ages 5-19 rank higher. Toddlers and teenagers are at the highest risks. Always remember, a child can drown in as little as an inch of water and drowning can occur even with an experienced swimmer.
- From 2005 – 2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States – about 10 deaths per day.
- An additional 332 people died each year from drowning during a boat-related incident.
- About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.
- For every child who dies from drowning, another 5 receive emergency department care for a nonfatal submersion injury.
- More than 50% of drowning victims treated in the emergency room require hospitalization or transfer for further care (versus a rate of 6% for all unintentional injuries).
- Nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of functioning (e.g. a permanent vegetative state).
- Children who cannot swim and infants should be held while in the water.
- Toddlers should always remain within an arm’s reach of a supervising adult while in the water.
- A child should never be left with another child alone in any amount of water, including small inflatable pools, bathtubs, standing water, or in a bathroom (even toilets have the potential to be a danger).
- Inflatable swimming devices and rafts should never be used in place of a life vest, as these can easily deflate in an emergency or separate from the child.
- Children should always wear a life jacket on a boat or near any body of water that s/he could fall into (e.g. edge of a pier, riverbank, poolside or dock)
- Use only US Coast Guard-approved life vests.
- Children need to learn how to swim. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming classes for children 4 years of age and older, as well as for children 1 – 3 years old depending on their exposure to water and the readiness of the child – like everything else, each child is ready to swim at a different age.
- Teenagers should be counseled about increased drowning risk if drugs or alcohol are involved.
- All parents and pool owners should be trained in CPR.
- Never assume that someone else is watching – communicate with other adults and know who is supervising.
Swim Site Safety:
- Home swimming pools should be enclosed on all 4 sides by a gate or fencing at least 4 feet high with latches out of reach of children.
- Pool decks should be clear of toys that might tempt children to go into the pool area unattended.
- Choose swim sites with a lifeguard on duty.
- Always obey posted signs or flag markers when swimming in natural bodies of water.
- Never dive in head first without knowing the depth of the water – always jump feet first.
- If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore until you are clear of it, then diagonally toward the beach.
Drowning – Know What to Look For…and What to Do:
- Drowning is often SILENT – do not always expect to see splashing, chaos or commotion.
- Look for a child with his/her head low in the water, mouth partially/fully in the water or hair over his/her face or eyes.
- Look for a child with his/her head tilted back with his/her mouth open, appearing to climb an “invisible ladder”, or who is vertical in the water.
- In a child is unresponsive or face down in the water, remove the child from the water and call 9-1-1 immediately.
- If the child is not breathing, initiate CPR.
- If a child was found face down in the water, lost consciousness, was cyanotic (blue) or had changes to his/her breathing or heart rate, s/he should be taken to an emergency room even if s/he has recovered.
Remember, one of the most important aspects of drowning prevention is being present. In today’s hectic world, it is easy to become distracted. If you are monitoring swimmers, your one and only priority should be their safety. If you need a break, time to answer a call, or a moment to focus elsewhere, be certain another adult can monitor the activity until you return your full attention to swim safety.
Have a fun and safe summer!
- CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). [cited 2012 May 3]. http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars.
- CDC. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2016. http://wonder.cdc.gov.
- Cummings P, Quan L. Trends in Unintentional Drowning: The Role of Alcohol and Medical Care. JAMA, 1999; 281(23): 2198-2202.
- Spack L, Gedeit R, Splaingard M, Havens PL. Failure of aggressive therapy to alter outcomes in pediatric near-drowning. Pediatric Emergency Care 1997; 13(2): 98-102.