Drownings are quiet and happen quickly — here's how to prevent a tragedy

For children ages 1 to 4, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

As parents, we devote so much of our attention and care to our kids' safety.

But there's a statistic that many don't know: For children ages 1- to 4-years old, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 351 pool or spa drownings each year from 2013 to 2015 for children under 15. Annually, there’s an estimated 6,400 emergency room visits for nonfatal drowning accidents.

In June 2018, Bode Miller and his wife, Morgan, suffered a devastating loss when their 19-month-old daughter drowned in a neighbor’s pool.

The Millers thought they were doing everything right to protect their children. Their older children took drowning prevention classes and the couple had a fence installed around their pool. When Morgan pulled Emeline, “Emmy,” from the pool, she performed CPR and immediately called 911.

Tragically, it was too late. Emmy passed away.

Understanding drowning can help keep more accidents from occurring. Here's how to spot — and prevent — drowning.

What does drowning look like?

“It is not loud and noisy. It is actually very quiet and it can happen very quickly,” Lisa Zarda, executive director with the U.S. Swim School Association (USSSA), told TODAY. “It’s one of the unfortunate misnomers from TV and movies.”

People are who drowning — whether an adult or child — are often too busy trying to breathe and trying to stay afloat to be able to call out for help.

Warning signs include:

  • Mouth at water level and may alternate between being just above the surface and just below it
  • Head tilted back as the person tries to float
  • Eyes glassy or closed

How to rescue a drowning person, according to USSSA guidelines:

  • “Throw, don’t go”— Never just jump in because a drowning person can accidentally pull their rescuers under with them. Tossing a lifesaving device, rope, towel, or even pool noodle helps the drowning person without increasing risk to others.
  • Get backup — Call 911 or inform others that someone is drowning, so they can call 911, and let them know you're helping. Alert lifeguards; they’re trained to assist.
  • Help from behind — When drowning people see a rescuer coming toward them, they clutch and pull them under the water. Approaching them from behind is safer for both the rescuer and the victim.
  • Use a life jacket — Wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket prevents a rescuer from being pulled under by a drowning person or an undercurrent. Life jackets are essential for rescues in water with currents, such as lakes, rivers and oceans.
  • Look for signs of secondary drowning — If drowning is prevented, the victim might still have water in his lungs and can suffocate hours later. Look for labored breathing, lethargy and coughing hours afterward, which can indicate secondary drowning.

If in open water:

Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket that properly fits. Tether yourself to a boat or dock to prevent being carried away by the currents.

Have a designated watcher.

Many times people drown because they swallow water or become tired and slip under the water. Having one person to keep watch over the group means that person notices if someone is suddenly missing.

“You should always have someone be a designated water watcher,” Zarda said. “The faster you can start CPR and call 911, the better."

Learn to swim.

While the guidelines help people save struggling swimmers, Zarda recommends that people try preventing the incidents. Learning how to swim remains one of the best ways to prevent drowning.

“It is absolutely necessary that everyone learns how to swim,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the age. You are never too old to learn how to swim. It truly is a life skill.”

Find local swim lessons via the USA Swimming Foundation's website, here.

This article was originally published in August 2018.