In the United States from 2005-2014, there was an average of 3,536 unintentional (or accidental) drownings each year. This statistic doesn’t include boating related incidents; boating occurrences add an additional 332 drownings per year. To put it in perspective, that is roughly 10 victims per day. One in five of these drowning victims is under the age of 14 years old. For those that do survive to receive emergency care, many are left with permanent brain damage that can include memory issues, learning disabilities, or end up in a permanent vegetative state (CDC, 2016).
What does this look like from a medical provider’s standpoint?
It’s devastating. The victims that survive are often left with permanent disabilities from an anoxic brain injury. This means that the brain is without vital oxygen long enough to kill irreplaceable brain cells. As an ICU nurse, I can tell you it is truly heartbreaking to care for a person that is a shell of who they once were. Many victims require mechanical ventilation to breathe, as the injury to their brains affects the area that controls this basic function. These patients are bed bound, fed artificially, and incontinent.
The saddest part? Most of the time, the accidents that caused these devastating injuries are preventable.
Programs provided by certified instructors through programs like Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) (for children 6 months to 6 years) and American Red Cross (for children and adults ages 7 and up) are another layer of defense to prevent drowning. These swimming courses can provide children and adults with valuable skills when barriers like pool fences and supervision fail. If a family cannot afford these lifesaving lessons, there are organizations such as Hand in Hand and Live Like Jake which provide scholarships.
When lives are at stake, every precaution should be taken to avoid becoming a statistic.
Centers for Disease Control. (2016, April 28). Unintentional drowning: get the facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html
About the Author
Meghan Bergman is a nurse in the trauma/neuro/surgical ICU at Moses Cone Hospital. After 7 years in nursing, she recently completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice and will sit for boards in the next month to be a certified nurse practitioner. She is married with 3 children, ages 10, 6, and 3. She became involved with Hand in Hand through her children's swimming lessons at Safe Swim NC Specialized Aquatic Training. Her family loves to go to the pool in the summer and boasts that Darlene (Executive Director) and Angela (Board President) have done so much for her children’s confidence in the water.
In recent years, social media and even reputable news outlets have made viral stories of "dry drowning" and "secondary drowning." Parents everywhere are filled with fear of this seemingly new and rare phenomenon stealing their precious children. And we get it. Anything that could potentially put our kids in danger is terrifying.
The truth is: DROWNING IS VERY REAL, BUT IT IS NOT DRY. What you may not realize is that the terms "dry drowning" and "secondary drowning" are not recognized by the greater medical community. Most cases of so-called "dry drowning" have been later attributed to an unrelated medical condition or secondary complications, like infection, due to a drowning incident.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) based on terminology established by the World Congress on Drowning in 2002, "Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death [fatal drowning], morbidity [nonfatal drowning with injury or illness], and no morbidity [nonfatal drowning without injury or illness]." Any child who has experienced a drowning event - that is submersion/immersion/inhaling liquid - should receive a medical examination and be observed if necessary, even if they do not appear to be experiencing complications.
Watch for the following symptoms after a water incident:
Hand in Hand is here to educate, and we are passionate about water safety. As part of our mission, we believe it essential to provide parents and caregivers with the facts regarding drowning and how to prevent it. After all, drowning kills more children between the ages of 1 and 4 than anything else except birth defects (CDC). Drowning is a very real epidemic but is also preventable. Please take the time to educate yourself on the Layers of Protection for Water Safety.
For more information on "dry drowning" from reputable medical professionals and scientific sources, visit the following links:
Drowning is never dry: Two ER doctors explain the real swimming danger kids face by Rick Pescatore, D.O. and Seth C. Hawkins, M.D.
Dispelling 'Dry Drowning' and Other Swimming Safety Myths by Brad Uren, M.D.
YOUR KIDS AREN’T DRY DROWNING (BECAUSE IT’S NOT REAL) by Dani Stringer, MSN, CPNP, PMHS
Death After Swimming Is Extremely Rare - And Is NOT "Dry Drowning" by Rebecca Parker, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians
We hear this question from well-meaning parents all the time:
"What's the big deal with floaties? Aren't they helping keep my child safe in water?"
Read on to find out why we, and many others, advise against the use of these flotation devices and the bad habits they instill. The CDC advises, "Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as 'water wings', 'noodles', or inner-tubes, instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe" (source).
First, to clarify: by “floaties”, we mean: arm bands, inflatable rings, rafts, noodles, and the ever popular puddle jumper. Here are three reasons you should ditch the "floaties," starting today:
1. "Floaties" teach ineffective floating and swimming postures. Flotation devices such as these hold children in a vertical position - head sticking up, feet hanging down, arms out to the side with legs bicycling to move around the pool. They are learning that this position in the water is how to get air, when in fact, the opposite is true. This vertical position is a drowning position. Children who swim in these devices do not learn to maintain their own buoyancy. They are likely to return to these inappropriate postures and panic quite quickly if they slip out of or find themselves in the pool without the flotation device.
2. "Floaties" provide a false sense of security to parents. Many parents rely heavily on these floatation devices, confident that the "floatie" is keeping their child safe. The truth is that drowning can easily happen when a child slips out of the flotation device (as seen here) or even while still in the device (like here). There is no substitute for effective adult supervision. Even the CDC states, "Supervisors of preschool children should provide 'touch supervision', be close enough to reach the child at all times. Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present." In the time it takes to check your phone or turn around to pick something up, a child can drown.
3. Children who wear "floaties" think they can swim. The scariest part about flotation devices is that children that wear them think they can swim. Young children simply cannot make the cognitive connection that the flotation device is allowing them to breathe and play with their head sticking up in the pool.
"Ok. So I can't use "floaties" for my kids. What should I do instead?"
1. Get in with your kids! Remember that having a parent or caregiver in the water is the safest way to play. As an added bonus, interacting together allows the parent and child essential time to connect.
2. Enroll your children in survival swim lessons! Effective swim training will provide the child with confidence and lifesaving skills so that they don't need to depend on flotation devices. We recommend Infant Swimming Resource and American Red Cross lessons, provided locally in the NC Triad by Safe Swim NC. Scholarships are available for those needing financial assistance; click here to learn more.
3. If you must use a flotation device, only use U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets and test them before use. With your child in the vest, check that they will be turned to their back to float face up. Many life jackets, even some Coast Guard approved, do not differentiate which way they float the child, meaning they could leave them floating face down in the water. Life jackets should not be worn for daily swimming due to the concerns about flotation devices listed above, but they should be used on boats or open water.
4. Learn and implement the Layers of Protection for Water Safety! A multi-layered approach is truly the key to keeping you and your loved ones safe. Check out our free printable Layers of Protection PDF to make sure your family is safe in and around water.