Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Drowning: Types, Risks and Prevention

It's summertime, and everyone is suddenly thinking about swimming and water safety. Even the local media is doing stories on drowning. While we're thrilled to have the spotlight on drowning prevention and water safety at this time of year, we want to remind our families that drowning is a risk all year round.

This week, we're discussing the real risk of drowning. Recent media has brought attention to some lesser know types of drowning:
  1. Dry Drowning: Also known as "secondary drowning", this is when a swimmer breathes in small amounts of water during a struggle. Fluid builds up in the lungs, causing pulmonary edima (the technical term for "dry" or "secondary" drowning). For more on "dry drowning" click here.
  2. Shallow Water Blackout: A loss of consciousness caused by cerebral hypoxia towards the end of a breath-hold underwater. It can be exacerbated by taking multiple fast breaths (hyperventilating) prior to swimming underwater. For more on on shallow water blackout click here. 
  3. Near Drowning:  This is when a swimmer is found unconscious in the water but survives.
When it comes to neurological damage, seconds count. Drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for children under the age of 5, but that statistic doesn't include children who survive "near drowning" and are left incapacitated in one way or another.

While all types of drowning are meaningful, the most poignant form for parents to be aware of is regular drowning. Dry drowning is less than 2% of all drownings, and "shallow water blackout" is most common in athletic training. Most children under the age of 5 are not actually inhaling water into their lungs (although they may ingest water into their stomachs!).

At LPB we teach underwater swimming in levels 3 and 4, and our teachers know to avoid teaching hyperventilation and to limit the number of repetitive underwater swims. It's very rare for swimmers under the age of 5 to suffer from shallow water blackout, it's more common in swim team environments. What's most important is that swimmers performing underwater swims must NEVER swim alone...but of course, no swimmer should ever swim alone regardless (our #1 rule in "summer safety week").

So, instead of getting wrapped up in the media attention focused on dry, secondary and shallow water drownings, we ask parents to focus on the real risk of drowning.

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