Need to Know: 3 Tips for Summer Water Safety

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For all intents and purposes, it's summer around here, since the kids are out of school and we're ready to play. With summer comes water sports, and whether your kids are master swimmers or beginners, water safety is the number one priority. In recent years, awareness surrounding several swimming dangers has risen, and we've collected the information here as a quick guide to making sure your kids are safe in the water this season.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission says there are almost 400 drownings annually in the United States among children under 15, and 75% of these involve children under 5. Even if your children know how to swim, there are some key dangers to be aware of to keep them safe.

  • Know what drowning looks like. Water safety expert Mario Vittone's post about what drowning really looks like has gone viral in the past few years, and it's great information to have. Since most people have never witnessed someone drowning, our frame of reference comes from various media, where drowning appears much more dramatic than it really is. Mario points out that people in danger of drowning are much quieter than we expect:

    The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind.

    The post contains a link to a video that shows someone actually experiencing the Instinctive Drowning Response, which is worth a look; no worries, he is saved by a lifeguard.

    Bottom line: Make sure you know what to look for when supervising kids and be aware of the silence of drowning.

  • Be aware of the possibility of secondary drowning: While rare, secondary drowning does occur, and some tragic stories and close calls have become news in the past few years. Secondary drowning occurs when someone has a close call in the water and inhales some water; this fluid can cause pulmonary edema or swelling that eventually leads to lung failure. Kids seem fine right after the incident, but the damage to their lungs can cause them to drown hours later. A recent report on GMA outlines the issue, and Lindsay Kujawa shares her son's experience with secondary drowning in a blog post. After a frightening stay in the hospital, he recovered, but her experience is a good reminder to everyone to be vigilant about kids in the water.

    Bottom line: If your child has a close call and aspirates water, be very vigilant. Lindsay summarizes it:

    Secondary drowning can be difficult to recognize since the victim appears to be okay right after a near-drowning event. Your child may breathe in a very small amount of water and seem like they have successfully expelled it through coughing. In secondary drowning the water may fill up some of the oxygen-rich pores of the lungs, which reduces the ability to oxygenate blood as it passes through. The heart does not slow down significantly with this process but rather very very slowly so your child will still be able to talk and walk. The only symptoms may be a sudden change in personality or level of awareness (just like Ronin experienced) as the blood oxygen level drops over time.

    So if your child has experienced a near drowning experience (it can happen in as little water as a puddle or in the bathtub) watch for a sudden change of personality or energy level. You can save your child's life if you act quickly and get them medical treatment immediately.
  • Prevent drain entrapments. As awareness of the possibility of people getting trapped in or on drains in pools grows, hopefully more safe drains will be installed. Drain entrapment happens when an unsafe drain is covered by a body part, causing hundreds of pounds of suction pressure and trapping that body part against it. The Zac Foundation, a non-profit founded by Karen and Brian Cohn after their 6 year-old drowned when his arm became entrapped in a drain, prepared a presentation on drain safety that outlines everything you need to know to tell a safe drain from a dangerous one.

    Bottom line: If you own a pool or spa, make sure you have an anti-entrapment drain cover. In a public pool or at someone else's house, be able to recognize a safe drain cover (the Zac Foundation's site will help) and tell your children to stay away from all drains.

  • Do you have additional safety tips that you follow at the pool or beach? Please share them in the comments.

(Image credits: Bridget Pizzo)

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