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ER Physician encourages families to make water safety a top priority

June 24, 2014

Drowning can happen any time of year, but it is important to be particularly vigilant during warmer months when the number of drownings skyrockets.

"When we think of water safety, we generally think of swimming pools," said Dr. Richard Romano, Emergency Department staff physician at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital. "But there are many other places where water safety should be practiced. It’s important to remember that drowning can happen anywhere there is water including swimming pools, ponds and lakes and even in the presence of lifeguards."

Protecting Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day, ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children ages 14 and under.

"Drowning is a quick and silent killer," said Dr. Romano. "The majority of children who drown in swimming pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight for less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning. In the time it takes to cross the room for a towel (10 seconds), a child in the bathtub can become submerged. In the time it takes to answer the phone (2 minutes), that child can lose consciousness. In the time it takes to sign for a package at your front door (4 to 6 minutes), a child submerged in the bathtub or pool can sustain permanent brain damage."

"The best way to prevent drowning is through the 'touch supervision' technique, which means being within an arm's length of the child at all times, able to reach them and pull them from the water immediately," said Dr. Romano. "Remember also that inflatable aids such as water wings and tubes are not substitutes for adult supervision and that swimming lessons are an important step, but they do not make a child 'drown-proof.' Teach children about the importance of always being with an adult and always swimming with a buddy."

Learning to swim at any age

Children are not the only ones that need to practice water safety – adolescents and adults do too. According to the CDC, drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death among those under age 16.

"Young people who drown are often victims of their own misjudgment of their swimming ability," said Dr. Romano. "They may view a river or a lake as a tempting means of cooling off in a hot spell, but fail to appreciate the harmful effects that the cold water can have on stamina and strength."

"Learning how to swim is important for folks of all ages. Those who don’t know how to swim can very easily find themselves in water over their heads with little time to call for help and they can submerge and drown very quickly," said Dr. Romano. "Alcohol reduces body temperature and impairs swimming ability, their balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat."

Water Safety Tips

  • Never swim alone.
  • Take swimming lessons.
  • Make sure you are ready to respond in case of an emergency: have an emergency phone near the body of water, and learn how to perform CPR.
  • Have a pool fence and keep toys away from the pool. Toys can attract young children into the pool.
  • Check the water temperature before swimming. Cold water can tax the body and make it difficult to swim well.
  • Do not swim if you have been drinking or if you have taken medication that alters your medical status.
  • Make sure pool-cleaning equipment, such as brushes and skimmers on long poles don't come in contact with power lines.
  • Pool goers should take precautions against E. Coli. Swimming pools can be a breeding ground for dangerous microorganisms. Chlorine helps maintain a clean and safe pool.
  • Toddlers should wear proper swim diapers designed to contain urine and feces.
  • Empty all buckets, containers and wading pools immediately after use. Store them upside-down and out of children’s reach.
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating.

What to Do If You See Someone Drowning

  • Call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • If the victim is within throwing distance, throw a floatable object to them. This includes a life jacket, kick board or even an empty gallon jug.
  • If the victim is within reaching distance, assist them by extending something long, such as a rope, pole, ring boughie or a tree branch.
  • If you must enter the water to assist someone, take a flotation device large enough to carry two adults safely. Keep the device between you and the person in distress; even a child can put an adult at risk in deep water.

Dr. Richard Romano is one of the board certified Emergency Physicians who proudly provides expert care in the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Emergency Department.