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10 ways to prevent drowning

June 06, 2017 | UCI Health
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Summer beckons us to the sparkling waters of pools, lakes and oceans.

But water activities can be dangerous. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 years in the United States, in California and here in Orange County.

Toddlers most at risk for drowning

We have not been able to substantially reduce the number of children who have drowned or been brain-injured as a result of near-drowning, says Dr. Paul Genser, a UCI Health pediatrician who has studied drowning and near-drowning.

There were 46 Orange County toddler drownings from 2000 to 2007. In 2006 and 2007 there were four deaths; in 2012, 2013 and 2015 there were five.

“We have not moved the needle in preventing these tragedies,” he says. “We need uniform surveillance if we want to understand the causes of drowning. Understanding the causes leads us to the intervention.”  

How water accidents happen

The data provided an illuminating look at how children get into trouble around water.

One major cause of toddler drowning was when children gained entry to a pool without the caregiver’s knowledge.

The study also showed children can drown even when the caregiver is nearby, such as in the yard, but not actively watching the child.

These situations can be remedied by having a high fence — with a self-closing, self-locking gate — surrounding a pool and by always being within arm’s reach of a child in the water.

“You can’t be multitasking. You can’t be on the phone,” Genser says.

Swimming lessons are not enough

Common-sense guidelines can help prevent drowning among all age groups. While toddlers are at highest risk of drowning, statistics show drowning occurs in all age groups, says Christy Carroll, RN, the UCI Health Trauma Program coordinator. Swimming lessons alone are not sufficient.

“Even experienced adult swimmers drown,” she says.

Drowning-related accidents among adults are often tied to the use of alcohol or drugs, she adds. Is alcohol putting you at risk? ›

Safety measures go a long way toward preventing tragic accidents. “We need layers of protection to prevent drowning,” Genser says.

Drowning prevention tips

  • A swimming pool should be completely separate from the house and play area of the yard.
  • Alarms and pool covers should not be used as a substitute for a fence.
  • When supervising children around water, use “touch supervision,” which means always remain in arm’s reach of the child.
  • Never leave your child alone or in the care of another child in or around water.
  • Know how to swim.
  • Learn CPR and first aid.
  • Have rescue equipment, such as a life preserver.
  • Wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets when swimming in the ocean.
  • Bring a phone to the pool, lake or beach in case of emergency.
  • Provide swimming lessons when your child is ready to learn.

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