Author: Alison Johnson
With summer right around the corner, lots of kids are about to jump into lots of pools. And watching them will be lots of parents who don't have a good idea of the most common signs of drowning, water safety experts say.
Most of us picture drowning like we've seen it in movies or on television. There's yelling, splashing, waving, flailing and pleas for help. It's very loud and might go on for a while. In other words, it's obvious.
In reality, though, signs of drownings are often very subtle. Victims have panicked and aren't able to talk, much less scream. The respiratory system's first priority is breathing, so all of its remaining energy goes toward trying to take in air, not make noise. The body also instinctively commands the arms to try to push down on water to hold the mouth above water, so victims often aren't able to wave or even grab onto a rescue device. And the entire episode can be over in between 20 and 60 seconds.
"It's often very quiet, and very quick," says Allison Reynolds, Aquatics Director at the Victory Family YMCA in York County. "They'll pretty much just sink."
Parents need to keep an eye on kids at all times, even in baby pools, Reynolds says. Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in children 15 and younger, behind car accidents; in about 10 percent of cases, an adult will actually watch it happen without understanding what is going on, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People who are yelling and thrashing in the water may still need assistance, of course, but it's the silent victims who are truly helpless. Other signs of trouble: the head is low in the water, with the mouth at water level; the eyes are glassy, unfocused or closed; the legs aren't moving (the person will be vertical in the water); the person is gasping; and the person is trying to swim in a particular direction without making progress or making a motion that looks like climbing a ladder underwater.
A basic bottom line: If a child seems strangely quiet or still, get within earshot and ask if he's OK. If he doesn't answer and/or stares blankly, he probably isn't. Get help, quickly.