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- Sports Medicine -

June 14th, 2014

Water Safety

Enjoy the summer but don’t let a day at the beach or pool end in tragedy. 


Consider these drowning statistics:

  • Drowning is the sixth leading cause of accidental death in the US. 
  • The US Lifesaving Association reported more than 70,000 rescues in 2008.
  • Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children, after motor vehicle accidents.   
  • Approximately 1 in 8 males and 1 in 23 females have reported a water-associated adverse event. 
  • Residential swimming pools are 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child less than 5 years of age.


The Hollywood rendition of drowning is maximized for drama, not accuracy.  Seldom is drowning accompanied by prolonged screaming and thrashing in the water.  First, drowning can be swift.  It requires only two minutes of submersion for a child to lose consciousness.  Second, shouting requires a sufficient amount of air in the lungs, which the drowning person may not have.  Third, sustaining flotation is more immediately important than waving for attention; the drowning person’s hands are more likely to be in the water attempting to keep the head above the surface. In contrast with Hollywood drama, drowning is more often swift and silent.


Drowning does not require deep water.  Infants may drown in bathtubs or even in buckets of water.  The lungs of most adult drowning victims contain less than 300 ml (10 ounces) of water.


Even nonfatal drowning has consequences.  One third of drowning survivors sustain moderate to severe neurological sequelae.  Recovery is often complicated by Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and by Ventilator-Associated Lung Injury as well as by infective pneumonia and chemical pneumonitis.  Further complications are myocardial dysfunction as well as hepatic or renal insufficiency.  Illness or injury occurs in 12-27% of drowning survivors who are 1-14 years of age.


But here are some precautions you can take to protect your safety and that of your loved ones.

  • Toddlers without adult supervision should be kept away from bathrooms or even buckets of water.
  • Toilet lids should be left closed when not in use.
  • Even baby bath seats require continuous adult presence.  
  • Household buckets should be immediately emptied after use.
  • Children unable to swim and all those under 4 years of age should have their accompanying adult within arm’s reach.
  • Children under 14 should not use personal watercraft unsupervised by an adult.
  • Children in pool areas should wear Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices.  Water wings, inner tubes, and pool noodles are not adequate.
  • Children should be taught to swim.
  • Adults supervising children in water must remain focused on the children at all times.
  • Pools should have fences at least 4 feet tall with openings no more than 4 inches wide.
  • Pools must not directly abut walls.
  • Gates and doors to the pool should be self-closing, self-latching, and kept locked when not in use.
  • Toys and other items attractive to children should not be left in the pool area.
  • Lifeguards should be properly trained, have adequate guard-to-swimmer ratios, and not have distractions or competing duties.
  • No one should swim alone or without checking beforehand for posted warnings as well as for water depth and submerged hazards.
  • Persons with medical conditions that could place them at risk should swim only under the observation of another adult who is prepared to rescue them.
  • Persons in boating activities should be able to swim and wear Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices.
  • No one should use alcohol or drugs in association with swimming or operating watercraft.

The physicians of the Erie County Medical Society hope that this information helps you and your family to enjoy a pleasant and safe summer.


Thomas Falasca, DO

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