Maheshwor Kafle, M.D. Pediatrician
Drowning is Quick and Quiet, So Keep Your Eyes on Kids around Water
It’s a warm summer day and you’re at the beach with your kids. Your cell phone rings and you answer it, shifting your focus from your kids to the conversation. Good idea? Not at all, according to J.C. Blair Pediatric Care Center and Safe Kids Huntingdon County, and it could even be deadly. Children can get into trouble in a matter of seconds when around water, so J.C. Blair Pediatric Care Center and Safe Kids Huntingdon County recommend that parents and caregivers actively supervise – with their eyes on the kids at all times – and use additional layers of protection when children are in or near the water. Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury death for children ages 14 and under. More than 700 children in this age group died in 2009 in the U.S. due to an unintentional drowning. In 2010, an estimated 5,651 children were nonfatally injured due to a near drowning incident.
“Kids drown quickly and quietly,” said J.C. Blair Pediatrician Maheshwor Kafle, M.D. “A drowning child cannot cry or shout for help. It is important to remember that simple steps save lives – supervise children when they are in or near water, use barriers and anti-entrapment devices for home pools and spas, learn water safety skills like swimming and CPR. The most important precaution for parents is active supervision. Simply being near a child is not supervising.”
Although almost 90 percent of parents say they supervise their children while they are swimming, many acknowledge that they engage in other distracting activities at the same time – talking, eating, reading or taking care of another child. “A supervised child is in sight at all times with your undivided attention focused on the child,” said Dr. Kafle. “When there are children in or near the water, adults should take turns serving as the designated ‘Water Watcher’ to ensure that a watchful eye is on the children at all times.”
J.C. Blair Pediatric Care Center and Safe Kids Huntingdon County remind families to use layers of protection to help keep kids safer this pool season, and to Lock, Look, and Learn:
• Pools and spas should be surrounded on all four sides by a fence at least four feet high with self-closing and self-latching gates. Studies estimate that this type of isolation fencing could prevent 50 to 90 percent of child drownings in residential pools.
• Pools and spas should have compliant anti-entrapment drain covers and back up devices to ensure safer places for children to swim.
• Pool/spa covers, pool alarms and door alarms can provide an extra layer of protection.
• Be mindful of inflatable or portable pools – these types of pools can also pose a drowning risk and are generally not separated by fencing on all four sides.
• Always watch children when they are around any type of water. According to a national study of drowning-related incidents involving children, a parent or caregiver claimed to be supervising the child in nearly nine out of 10 child drowning-related deaths.
• Designate a “Water Watcher” – a responsible adult who is in charge of watching children while they are in or near water. The Water Watcher should not be distracted by phone calls, text messages, reading or talking to others.
• Supervise children even if they know how to swim – knowing how to swim does not prevent drowning. Children who can’t swim well or can’t swim at all should be within your arm’s reach. They can also wear properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets.
• Keep a phone near you – use it only to call for help if there is an emergency.
• If a child is missing, check the water first.
• Learn how to swim – it is an important skill for both children and adults to know.
• Learn to use life jackets. Children who can’t swim or can’t swim well can wear U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets that are appropriate for the child’s size and weight. Don’t rely on inflatable swimming toys such as water wings and noodles; these toys should never be used in place of U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets.
• Learn CPR and know how to use rescue equipment – these are important skills to know if there is an emergency. In less than two hours, you can learn effective interventions that can give a fighting chance to a child whose breathing and heartbeat have stopped. Contact J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital at (814) 643-8839 or www.jcblair.org for information about local CPR classes.
• Teach children water safety rules such as never swim alone, always wear a life jacket while boating, and never swim or play near pool or spa drains.
Even a near-drowning incident can have lifelong consequences. Kids who survive a near drowning may experience brain damage that can cause memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functions. In fact, after just four to six minutes under water – the damage is usually irreversible.
For more information about drowning and water safety, call Safe Kids Huntingdon County at (814) 643-8833 or visit www.safekids.org/water.
Safe Kids Huntingdon County works to prevent unintentional childhood injury, the leading cause of death and disability to children ages 1 to 14. Its members include J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, Huntingdon County United Way, PennDOT and the Pennsylvania State Police. Safe Kids Huntingdon County is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing unintentional injury. Safe Kids Huntingdon County is led by J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital.