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ER Physician warns as the temperatures rise so does the need to review water safety

June 27, 2016
Dr Richard Romano

Summer is officially here! As temperatures rise, you may be looking for fun ways to cool off and stay active. Water activities like swimming, diving, canoeing, boating, and water skiing, offer relief during these hot summer months, but it’s important to remember many injuries can happen during recreational water activities.

“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.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day, 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, one in five are children ages 14 and under.

Drownings Happen Quickly, Quietly

“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.”

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, balance, coordination, and judgment and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat,” said Dr. Romano.

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 buoy, 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.