The signs of drowning aren’t what you might think

As pools open for the summer, the number of drownings goes up. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, two-thirds of all drownings happen between May and August. The Norton Children’s Hospital emergency department sees an average of 19 drowning victims a year in these months. Sadly, most drownings are completely preventable. Know the signs of drowning.

“There are some safety precautions you can take to prevent drowning, and they’re very simple,” said Erika Janes, R.N., coordinator of child safety programs for Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness. “It starts with knowing the signs of drowning, which are very misunderstood.”

Is drowning silent or loud?

“The movies show drowning as very active and loud, when in reality, victims don’t usually call out. They also usually keep their hands down at their sides so there is no splashing. It happens in under a minute once a child begins to struggle.”

Signs of drowning

  • Head low in the water with mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs—vertical in the water
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

Understanding lifeguards and swimming lessons

If you’re at a pool with a lifeguard, you still need to watch your children. With many people in a pool at one time, you’re going to be able to know if your child is in trouble the fastest.

And even if your child has had swimming lessons, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t drown. Everyone’s swimming level is different, and all it takes is a child to get tired or swallow water for him or her to be at risk.

Safe swimming reminders

  • Don’t swim alone, especially children. Use the buddy system so there’s always someone looking out for you and loved ones.
  • At least one adult should supervise children around water at all times. Don’t let yourself get distracted by talking with friends, reading, drinking alcohol or using your phone when it’s your turn to supervise. Adult supervisors should be trained in CPR.
  • If you own a pool, make sure it has a fence completely surrounding it, separating it from the house.
  • Teach children lifesaving skills, such as how to float on their back, tread water and move to the side of the pool to climb out.
  • Don’t rely on inflatable toys and water wings to keep a child safe. Children can easily fall off of toys or slide out of wings and slip right under the water. If you’re using inflatables, you should be right there with a child, especially if he or she cannot swim.

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