Drowning: Heat Brings Families to the Water

Celia Spell
August 06, 2020
An in ground pool

Constant supervision provides the most consistent protection against drowning, but with all the distractions that come with a day at the beach, pool or lake, drownings and other water-related injuries can still happen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists drowning among the top 10 leading causes of death for children in every region across the world, so it’s not just something that happens near the beach. Ian Kane, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician with MUSC Children’s Health, and when young children with water-related injuries are brought to the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital’s emergency department, it’s because they were likely swimming in a pool, slipped under and swallowed water.

Usually brief events, these children are generally pulled out of the water quickly by a watchful parent and have a coughing spell that helps rid their lungs of water. If a child slips under water but is discovered soon after and breathes normally following coughing, Kane says it’s not likely they need to come to the emergency room or be seen by a physician. He worries more about children who turn blue when pulled out of the water and are short of breath after needing CPR. If a child is still coughing 15-20 minutes after the incident and working harder to breathe than they normally would, that’s when Kane says to bring them in.

But Kane also points to older children as ones to worry about as well. They are more likely to swim near natural bodies of water such as an ocean or a lake, and they might be without parental supervision. It’s also easy to assume they are better swimmers than they really are. Those injuries can be significant, whether it’s due to an ocean’s rip tide, a drowning or a boating accident.

Being watchful is Kane’s biggest tip for parents worried about their children around water. “Young kids should also wear life jackets,” he said. “There should be an age under which all children always need to wear a life jacket, but there’s no substitute for having an adult around whose sole job is to watch the kids.”

As for older children, he suggests being aware of how strong of a swimmer a child is before they get in the water. And while this helps, he cautions against feeling any kind of false sense of security. “Having a child who is a good swimmer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook for supervision of life jackets,” he said.

While drownings can and do happen everywhere, they are almost always preventable. Water can be the coolest place to be during these summer months, and with a few safety precautions, it can be also be a place to have fun.