Drowning Looks Different Than You Think

drowningThink drowning involves screaming, gasping, and flailing? Think it’s easy to notice someone drowning? Well, you’re wrong. Drowning is a silent killer. There’s no splashing, waving, or calling for help of any kind. It’s not like what they show on TV. Many people would not even notice another person drowning at just 30 yards away. Read on for tips on how to keep yourself and those you love safe from this silent killer whether at the beach or in your backyard pool.

The Facts About this Silent Killer

The Instinctive Drowning Response, a term coined by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people instinctively do to avoid suffocation when drowning. The responses to drowning are undramatic and surprisingly quiet.  Drownings are the leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4. Even scarier is that in a small but significant percentage of kids’ drownings, an adult will have watched the whole process, not having a clue what was happening (Source:CDC).

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like What You’d Expect

Dr. Pia, in an article entitled “It Doesn’t Look Like They’re Drowning” featured in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine (Fall 06), describes the typical drowning response as follows: “Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouth of a drowning person is not above the surface of the water long enough to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning person’s mouth is above the surface, she exhales and inhales quickly as her mouth starts to sink below the surface of the water. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”

Signs of Drowning

Watch for these signs the next time you’re swimming with your kids or others:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with open mouth
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Eyes glassy, empty and unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Not using legs
  • Body is vertical and upright
  • Trying to swim in a certain direction but not making progress
  • Trying to roll over on the back


Stay Aware to Save a Life

Keep your eyes open for any oddities because even when things seem ok, they may not be. A good way to be sure is to ask your kid or the person you’re swimming with if he or she is all right. If they are rather still, do not answer or have a blank stare, then you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them! As any parent knows, kids make noise in the water. If they are not making noise, find out why and get them out of the water ASAP. Yahoo.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I was in Florida with my family a few summers ago and rented a house w a pool My daughter who was 4 years old was hanging on the side of shallow I turned away for 10 seconds. next thing I know she is under the water and not a sound. Just her moving around under the water. SCARIEST thing. I gtrabbed her and brough her up BH she was OK. BUT all it takes is a second and not realizing what is going on. PLEAEE be ALERT at all times when children are near a pool with even “shallow” water.

  2. This is very well written and true Ive seen active drowning a few times the main thing you need to look at is the arms on the side pressing downward literary like a “tzelim”
    I cant say strong enough the following things its amazing how many local pools don’t have a working fence with a lock.
    Also never trust tubes, wings and the like on non deep water swimmers I have had to jump into the shallow for a kid who wouldn’t recover (stand up) from back floating with wings and was sinking. It also provides false sense of security for the child.
    As well as don’t take them into the deep for a ride the last NEAR drowning in Lakewood was a father who took his kid into the deeper part he slipped and didn’t know how to swim! He could have easily had a cramp and caused the same thing the life guard had to rescue both!

  3. Also very important is to have at least two lifeguards in every pool! People both don’t realize and don’t want to pay for this, but it’s EXTREMELY important! If lo alainu someone gets a spinal injury in a pool it’s almost impossible for a single lifeguard to get the person out of the pool alone. This is besides for the fact that lifeguards are human too and there will be times when a lifeguard will be distracted. It shouldn’t happen but it does.

  4. This happened to me last week my child walked down the pool steps and I was talking but watching and it took me a second to realize that he was under. It was so quite I ran down the steps and pulled him up and he did not even have a chance to swallow water but what scared me is how quite it was if I was not watching him, my heart stopped. He was fine and went back to playing after I put a life jacket and swimmies on him but I was not ok and now I am nervous my kids need to learn how to swim!

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