Drowning Does Not Look Like Drowning

In many child drownings, often adults are nearby but have no idea the victim is dying. In many cases it is too late as most parents are not trained as lifeguards and therefore do not know what drowning looks like. It just takes a matter of minutes for a child to drown resulting in a tragedy that could have been prevented.

Drowning is the second-most common cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 14 (just behind motor vehicle accidents). In a 2004 study by a national safety group, 90 percent of children who drowned did so while under the care of an adult or a teenager. In many cases, the study suggests, that person had a momentary lapse of attention. But the fact is that often those watching don’t know what to look for—because drowning doesn’t look like drowning. To ward off a tragedy in the making, watch for the 8 signs that someone is in trouble.

1. A drowning person can’t call for help—they have to be able to breathe before they can speak. When a person is drowning, their mouth sinks below and reappears above the surface of the water. There isn’t time for them to exhale, inhale, and call out.

2. They can’t wave for help either. A drowning person instinctively extends their arms to the sides and presses down to lift their mouth out of the water; a child may extend their arms forward. They can’t use their arms to move toward a rescuer or reach for rescue equipment.

3. A drowning person remains upright in the water, with no evidence of kicking. They can struggle for only 20 to 60 seconds before going under.

4. Eyes are glassy, unable to focus, or closed.

5. Hair may be over forehead or eyes.

6. Head is low in the water, with mouth at water level; head may be tilted back with mouth open. A child’s head may fall forward.

7. Sometimes the most important indicator that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they are drowning. They may just seem to be looking up at the sky, shore, pool deck, or dock. Ask them, “Are you all right?” If they can answer at all, they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.

8. Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find out why.

In many cases, drownings occur at pool parties where there are lots of kids in the pool. It is virtually impossible for an untrained parent, friend or even a nanny to know what drowning looks like. It is also possible that a new and young lifeguard will miss the signs of a drowning as well.

For more information on drowning prevention and awareness, info@goldenstatelifeguards.com


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