Tulane Medical Center - July 20, 2020

From a dip in the ocean or pool to a day on the boat, summer means fun in the sun and a nice cool swim. But unfortunately, fun in the water does not come without added perils.

Drowning is a common cause of preventable death. Worldwide, drownings are responsible for over 300,000 deaths per year. And for children under 14 in the United States, it is the second leading cause of death.

Drownings can occur for a variety of reasons including:

  • Inability to swim
  • Panicking in the water
  • An undertow or riptide if you are at a beach
  • A jet ski or boat accident

But drowning doesn’t just happen in deep water. It can also occur in shallow water such as a bathtub, kiddie pool or toilet.

“For infants especially, drowning can happen in just a couple inches of water,” said Dr. Marco Hidalgo, trauma medical director at Lakeview Regional Medical Center, a campus of Tulane Medical Center. “If an infant ends up face down, inexperience will cause them to take a deep breath. They can inhale a lot of water.”

Tips to help prevent drownings

Drowning is silent and can happen a lot faster than people think, which is why it can be so hard to prevent.

“A lot of the time parents are watching their kids, but things can go from perfectly fine to really terrible in matter of seconds,” Dr. Hidalgo said. “It can be very difficult to pay that close of attention for that long.”

Some things you can do to help prevent drownings are:

  1. View lifeguards as a last resort – Lifeguards are humans too and it can be hard for them to pay that close of attention for that long and to multiple people.
  2. Take turns diligently watching children – Be realistic about the amount of time you are able to pay close attention. Fifteen to twenty minute time periods is recommended.
  3. Be within an arm’s reach of beginner swimmers – An adult should be able to quickly pull a child out of the water if their head becomes submerged.
  4. Boat drivers should stay vigilant – Drivers should stay hydrated and shouldn’t drink alcohol.
  5. Everyone on a boat should wear a life preserver – It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are if you are unconscious.
  6. Get children swim lessons – According to the American Academy of Pediatrics many children older than 1 year old can benefit from swim lessons. The decision of when to start lessons should be individualized based on comfort in the water, health, emotional maturity, and physical and cognitive abilities.
  7. Show children how to identify a rip current and explain how to rescue themselves from one – If caught in a rip tide, you should remain calm and swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current.
  8. Fence in pools – Fences should be four sided and be at least four feet tall with self -closing or self-latching gates. The pool should be completely isolated from the house and yard. This has shown to prevent over 50% of pool drownings of young children.
  9. Know when and who should wear a life jacket – The American Red Cross recommends that children and weak swimmers wear a life jacket any time they are near water, everyone who is in the ocean, open water, participating in water-based sports, or around cold water or ice.

What to do if you find someone down in the water

  1. Get them to safety

If needed, get the person flotation to avoid them being submerged in water. Then, if they are in deep water get them to the shallow water and if possible, get them to dry land.

If you saw someone inhale a lot of water, it is good to lay the person on their side.

  1. If you are alone, get help – Call 911

If the person is unresponsive and you are alone, you need to go get help. You can’t start CPR without getting help or help may never come. You won’t be able to give CPR by yourself for a prolonged period of time.

Always call 911. First responders have advanced training and can safely get the person to the appropriate hospital faster.

CPR in a COVID-19 environment

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, immediate resuscitation at the site of drowning, even before the arrival of emergency medical services, is the most effective way to improve outcomes in a drowning incident. That’s why it is so important that older children, teens and adults have proper CPR training.

While rescue breathing has generally been considered the most important initial treatment for drowning victims, some studies have shown that there is no significant difference in neurologic outcomes after one month between people treated with conventional CPR with rescue breathing and compression-only CPR.

If the drowning victim is a member of your household you shouldn’t be too concerned with performing rescue breaths because of COVID-19. If they are not a member of your household, chest compressions can still be effective.

“Chest compressions save lives, but it takes practice. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Dr. Hidalgo said. “I encourage everyone to take a CPR course.”

Expert emergency care near you

Tulane Health System is committed to offering safe emergency care close to home. We have advance protocols in place to help keep you and your loved ones safe from COVID-19 in the event of an emergency. For more information visit our visit our COVID-19 Resource Hub.

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