Don’t be Fooled by the Sound of Drowning

Soon the temperatures in Georgia will climb well into the 90s and people will flock to the nearest pool for relief from the heat.  As an adult, it’s important to know when a child or other adult is in distress in the water or drowning and needs your help.

When we think of someone drowning, we imagine the person thrashing his or her arms about screaming for help.  While that behavior is an indication that someone might be in distress, it’s not the typical sound of drowning.  In reality, drowning is nearly silent.

So why would a drowning person be silent instead of calling for help and waving their arms?  Physiologically, they are unable to do either of those things.  We all need air to be able to speak.  When we are drowning, we are unable to get the air we need to call out for help, which is why someone won’t scream for help.  We all need the ability to voluntarily control our movements in order to wave for help.  When we are drowning, we cannot voluntarily control our arm movement and therefore can’t wave for help.

So what are the signs of drowning?  One important sign is that a drowning person doesn’t look like they’re drowning.  Instead, you might notice the following:

  • When their eyes are level with and their mouth dips below the water’s surface
  • When someone appears to be extending their arms to the side or forward as though trying to lift themselves up out of the water
  • A person is upright in the water with no signs of kicking (this is a short window as he or she can only struggle for about 20-60 seconds before going under the water)
  • Hair is over the eyes or forehead
  • A person’s eyes are glassy, unable to focus, or are closed
  • When someone’s head is tilted back with the mouth open or if a child’s head falls forward

An average of 280 children under the age of 5 drown each year.  It is the No. 2 cause of accidental death in children under the age of 16.  About half of the children who drown will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult.

So what are some swimming safety tips?

  • As a parent, never leave a child alone in a pool, not even to go to the bathroom or answer the phone.  Make sure you are within arms length if a child us under the age of 5.  Drowning can happen in 20 to 60 seconds.
  • Do not swim alone.  Always swim with a friend.
  • Wear a life vest if you don’t know how to swim.
  • Make sure home pools and inflatable pools are safely enclosed in a locked gate.
  • Take all toys out of the pool when not in use to prevent children from reaching to get them.
  • Check pool drains and suction covers to make sure they are not missing or broken, as they can cause entrapment, which can lead to drowning.
  • Know CPR and keep a first aid kit nearby.

Remember, when people are swimming, especially children, they make noise.  If things get quiet you need to know why.  If someone appears to be quiet, unfocused or just doesn’t seem right, then ask him or her if they’re okay.  If they can easily answer yes, then they’re probably okay.  If they’re silent or can’t respond then help them immediately.   Click here to read a firsthand account of a lifeguard who saved a 9-year-old child from drowning while she was only 10 feet away from her parents, who didn’t even realize she was in distress.