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 and often these individuals were not trained lifeguards. In many cases, the study suggests, that person had a momentary lapse of attention which is extremely common in most drownings.
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 telltale signs that someone is in trouble. The time to you spend learning how to identify a drowning will indeed save the life a child or adult one day.
Most drownings occur at pool parties where parents have gathered by the pool, sometimes enjoying wine or some sort of alcoholic beverage. If not drinking they are engaged in conversation with another parent. Many other drownings are the result of parents leaving safety into the hands of nannies who are not trained lifeguards. In some instances and with increasing regularity, we are seeing drownings occur under the watch of young, ill-trained lifeguards. No matter how you look at it, one drowning is too many.
Hollywood has done a terrible job of illustrating drownings and because people have become conditioned to identify drownings such as those portrayed in movies and television, many people have drowned, tragically. The bottom line is that now we must recondition people to identify drownings and save lives. Drownings do not look like drowning and are always silent!
WHAT DOES A DROWNING LOOK LIKE?
1. They 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. They remain upright in the water, with no evidence of kicking. They can struggle for only 20 to 60 seconds before going under.
4. Their eyes are glassy, unable to focus, or closed.
5. Their face may be hard to see; hair may be over forehead or eyes.
6. Their 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. They are quiet. Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find out why.
8. They don’t seem in distress. 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.