With many long days in the sun still ahead of us, swimming continues to be a favorite summer pastime for those of all ages. From community pools to Lake Michigan, opportunities for fun in the sun are all around. But the water can also be one of the most dangerous places for kids, particularly those under five years old.
“Among preventable injuries, drowning is the leading cause of death for children one to four years of age. Children one to four years old are more likely to drown in a pool, while those five and older are more likely to drown in natural water like ponds, lakes and rivers,” says Amy Hill, Associate Director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Lurie Children’s.
“Infants and children can drown in just a few inches of water, such as buckets, kiddie pools, and bathtubs. Older kids are also at risk and tend to drown in open bodies of water, especially when alcohol is involved,” says Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, Director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center.
- When your child is ready, enroll them in formal swim instruction. It’s important to remember though that swim lessons should never be thought to “drown proof” anyone. Before a child graduates from swim lessons, he/she should be able to complete Illinois Safe Kids guidelines.
- Never leave a child alone in or near water (the pool, hot tub, beach or bathtub).
- Make sure pools have proper fencing and/or pool gates that aren’t easy to access or open by a child. Remove the ladders or steps from above-ground pools when not swimming. Empty the pool daily when not in use.
- A lifeguard or an adult, preferably one who knows CPR, should be watching children when they are in or near the water. Always swim with a partner at arm’s reach.
When swimming in the open water such as a lake or ocean, it is important to pay attention to the natural elements (i.e. wind advisory). “The water depth or temperature, especially on Lake Michigan, can change rapidly,” says Dr. Sheehan.
Remember these safety tips when swimming in open water:
- Never swim alone in open water. Even strong swimmers need buddies.
- Never swim after dark in open water.
- Never dive into open water unless the depth of water has been checked.
- If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally to the shore.
Both Hill and Sheehan stress that drowning in real life is nothing like drowning in the movies. “It takes less than one minute from the initial struggle for a child to drown,” says Dr. Sheehan. “It is not as dramatic as it is portrayed,” says Hill. “Drowning is silent, usually a person slips under the water. In real life, there can be very little splashing or screaming.”
What is Dry Drowning?
“Drowning is essentially the lack of oxygen in the brain,” explained Hill. “And anytime there is a lack of oxygen or struggle breathing, brain damage is always a risk. Organ failure and death would be the most severe response.” Anytime a person is involved in a water rescue, it is important to keep a close eye on them.
Dry drowning and secondary drowning, social media-based phenomenon that made headlines after the death of a Texas 4-year-old, are entering poolside conversations between parents and caregivers across the country. Anyone who experiences respiratory symptoms after a drowning incident should seek medical care immediately. For more information, check out: Drowning in a Sea of Misinformation: Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning.
“You know your child better than anyone, so depend on that judgment. “It’s not just being tired after a day at the pool,” says Hill. “Be alert of extreme tiredness, vomiting, or labored breathing. After a rescue of any kind, if you feel something isn’t right, bring your child into their pediatrician or emergency room.”
“Making healthy water practices a part of your routine should be as natural as wearing a helmet when riding a bike or wearing a seatbelt in a car,” says Hill.