It’s called the “silent killer.”
According to the Drowning Prevention Foundation, children can drown in less than a minute in as little as an inch of water. Often there is no warning, such as screams or splashing.
It's a worldwide problem, but one that hits close to home.
According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, an average of 10 people die from drowning every day in the United States. One-fifth of these deaths are children under the age of 14 — drowning is the No. 1 killer of children under the age of 4. Florida Health says the state loses more children younger than age 5 to drowning than any other state.
Fatal v. near drownings
Some statistics show that for every one child who dies, another five receive treatment in an emergency room for nonfatal submersion injuries, including brain injury and comas. The numbers might even be higher.
The World Conference for the Prevention of Drowning says this:
- Near drowning has been estimated to be from 2 to 50 times more common than fatal drowning. The exact number is hard to get because the definition of near drowning varies and because not all victims receive hospital treatment.
- Up to as many as one-third of all drowning survivors have been reported to sustain significant neurological damage due to anoxic encephalopathy — a condition where brain tissue is deprived of oxygen and there is global loss of brain function. The longer brain cells lack oxygen, the more damage occurs.
Besides in-ground pools, there are other sources of potential drowning dangers. Inflatable pools and small amounts of standing water can also be deadly. The inflatable pools are relatively inexpensive, so they have become more common. They hold a lot of water, so most people want to leave them filled between uses. Their soft sides make them easy to get into and difficult to get out of and, typically, they are in a backyard — not surrounded by a safety fence. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that portable backyard pools are “a significant risk” to children younger than 5 years old.
What to do?
Most water safety campaigns, including one designed specifically by the State of Florida, recommend three layers of protection around water.
Layer 1. Supervision: Supervision means someone is always actively watching when a child is in the pool. Consider having a "designated watcher" around the water.
Layer 2. Barriers: A child should never be able to enter the pool without a guardian. Barriers physically include spring-loaded, self-closing gates and isolation fences. Secondary barriers include house door alarms and splash alarms.
Layer 3. Emergency preparedness: The moment a child stops breathing there is a small, precious window of time for resuscitation. It’s important for everyone to learn — and relearn — CPR. Keep a phone nearby and immediately call 911 in the case of an emergency.
The Drowning Prevention Foundation has more water safety tips. Other good ideas include swimming lessons and teaching children to have respect for the water.
Accidents happen, but with vigilance, the rate of drownings can be greatly reduced to give everyone a happy and safe summer.