Swimming Safety: Knowing the Signs of Drowning
Most of the time on TV and in the movies, people who are drowning struggle to stay afloat while waving their arms, splashing and screaming for help. Real life drowning, however, can look very different from these dramatic scenes. Knowing the signs of drowning and what to do could help save a life.
Before you head to the pool or beach, consider these tips for water safety and recognizing the signs of drowning.
What Are the Warning Signs of Drowning?
It can be difficult to tell when someone is drowning. Even if you’re watching someone swimming, you may not realize they are in distress, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Someone struggling in the water may still be trying to swim but cannot make progress, says the American Red Cross.
According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the following are signs of water distress:
- A weak or inefficient swim stroke
- Moving backward, particularly in open water
- Gasping for air or hyperventilating (look for the head tilted back and mouth open)
- Moving up and down in the water
- Hands and arms waving to the sides
- Hair in eyes and face
Without help, a swimmer exhibiting these signs may become what the Red Cross calls an active drowning victim. The person may still be vertical in the water, but they cannot move forward or tread water. They may also move their arms up and down as they try to keep their head above the water. If the swimmer becomes motionless and is floating face down, this is a sign of what the Red Cross calls a passive drowning victim.
What to Do When a Swimmer Is in Distress
Whether a person is showing the first signs of water distress or they are a passive drowning victim, call for help immediately — especially if there is no lifeguard on duty or the victim is not responsive. If you can safely get the swimmer out of the water, do so quickly, says Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Red Cross recommends throwing them a flotation device or rope or using a reaching pole and pulling them to safety.
How to Help Prevent Drowning
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a few main factors that typically contribute to drowning. To help prevent drowning, the CDC recommends:
- Take swim lessons. Lack of swimming ability is a main contributor in drownings, but taking swim lessons has been shown to reduce the risk of drowning in young children.
- Watch closely. Since drowning can happen quickly and quietly, it’s important to supervise children near any water, including bathtubs, buckets and even pools with lifeguards.
- Wear a life jacket. If you are boating, wear a life jacket regardless of your experience or swimming ability. While swimming, young children and those who are not strong swimmers should wear a Coast Guard certified flotation device.
- Put up barriers. If you have a pool at home, enclosing it with a fence on all sides greatly reduces the risk of a child drowning. PoolSafety.gov recommends the fence be at least 4 feet in height and self-latching. You may also want to consider a pool cover, water alarm and installing an alarm on the door from the house to the pool.
- Be prepared. Have safety equipment and a first aid kit on hand, and always have a phone nearby, says the Red Cross. Consider taking a water safety course, and know how to perform first aid and CPR.
Whether you have a pool in your yard or will be spending some time at the beach, it’s a good idea to understand the signs of drowning and what to do to help keep those around you safe.
Originally published on August 14, 2012.