Dr. Campbell: Signs of a drowning child may not be what you expect

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With summer upon us, many families are hitting the pool and beach in order to cool off and have some fun. However, one of the season’s most popular activities may also be one of the most dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental deaths in kids under the age of 15.


1. What are the signs of a drowning child?

When we get in trouble in the water, the symptoms may be quite vague. Often times what most of us think of as the telltale signs of drowning – flailing arms and shouting for help – simply don’t happen.

There are two phases of drowning, the first being aquatic distress when people know they are in trouble and can wave or call for help. Then comes the instinctive drowning response. According to experts, the Instinctive Drowning Response is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind — this instinctive drowning response lasts 30 to 60 seconds at the most so it’s imperative the person gets help immediately.

2. What are some signs of potential drowning?

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:

•  Head low in the water, mouth at water level
•  Head tilted back with mouth open
•  Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
•  Eyes closed
•  Hair over forehead or eyes
•  Not using legs—vertical
•  Hyperventilating or gasping
•  Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
•  Trying to roll over on the back
•  Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

3. As a parent, how can you make sure your family stays safe?

When it comes to supervision, especially for children, a lifeguard may not be enough.

Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. According to the CDC, in 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch the child do it, having no idea it is happening.

It is important to be vigilant and understand the signs of a swimmer in trouble.

•  Parents: Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why. This may be a first sign of difficulty in the water.
•  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends all kids learn how to swim from certified swimming instructors.
•  Older kids and teens: Even those who are proficient swimmers should swim with a buddy.
•  At pool parties or other group activities involving water, experts recommend having an adult designated “water watcher” at all times.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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