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Would you be able to recognize a drowning?

With all the hot weather we have had, it seems like everyone is seeking some kind of relief.  And for many, that relief comes from a day of swimming at the local beach, pond, or swimming pool.

Drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death in children ages 15 and under.  What many people don’t realize is that an actual drowning can be a deceptively silent event.  Rarely in real life does one see waving arms, splashing, and yelling from a drowning person.  Instead, this is the typical scenario with a drowning:

  • Drowning people are typically unable to call out for help. This is because the respiratory system was designed for breathing.  Speech is a secondary function, and breathing must be fulfilled before speech can occur.
  • When a person is drowning, their mouth is not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help.
  • Downing people cannot wave for help.  In survival mode, instinct force them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface.  This is in an attempt for the drowning person to allow them to lift their mouths above the surface of the water to breath.
  • During an actual drowning, people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements such as waving their arms, reaching for a piece of rescue equipment, or moving toward a rescuer.
  • From the beginning to the end of a drowning, the person’s body is upright, with no supporting kick.  Unless rescued very quickly by a trained lifeguard, drowning people can only struggle 20 – 60 seconds at this stage, before submersion occurs.

The above scenario doesn’t mean that a person who is yelling for help and thrashing about isn’t in real distress.  They are most likely in trouble- but unlike a true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue.  The problem is that this distress period doesn’t last long, and is not always present in a drowning.

These are the subtle signs of a drowning when a person is in the water:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level.
  • Head tilted back with mouth open.
  • Eyes closed.
  • Hair over forehead or eyes.
  • Vertical body; not using legs.
  • Gasping or hyperventilating.
  • Trying to swim in one direction, but making no headway.
  • Trying to roll over on one’s back.
  • Appear to be climbing a ladder.

On a final note, children playing in the water make noise, when they get quiet, go to them and find out why. This could be a sign they are in distress.  And for adults and teens, if a person cannot answer back to you when you ask “are you okay?” this is a strong indication of a problem. If they return a blank stare, you have very little time to get to them.

We hope this information will help make your next trip to the beach or pool, a safe one for you and your family.