Tips to spot someone drowning, help prevent drownings

CREATED Jul 5, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - Four people from Wisconsin died in a 24-hour period from drownings, and a young child nearly drowned in a West Allis aquatic park.

Below are ideas experts have given to preventing drownings in lakes, rivers and in your home pool.

Something that often isn't thought about: typically, people who are drowning don't necessarily look like they've been drowning.

Dr. Francesco Pia gave these tips to a Coast Guard publication (on page 14 of this linked file):

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, or overlaid, function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

3. Drowning people ca nnot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no ev idence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

The Seattle Children's Hospital Research Foundation has come up with a number of tips to prevent drowning, particularly in lakes and rivers like the drownings which happened in Wisconsin.

They include:

- Know that lake and river water is cold enough to cause hypothermia in summer.

- Swift currents, rocks and tree branches can hide underneath seemingly calm water.

- Don't swim or boat in high-running water.

- Know how fast and cold water is before you jump in.

- Never dive or jump into water which is shallow, or if you don't know how deep it is.  Check to see that water is at least 10 feet deep.

- Wear a life jacket if swimming in lake or river water without lifeguards, or if going on a boat, using a raft, canoe or inner tube.

- If you are tired, have had alcohol or drugs, don't go swimming.

- Learn CPR.

Click here for more from the Seattle Children's Hospital Research Foundation.

When it comes to home pools and more controlled situations, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission says that parents should:

- Have a number of barriers of protection including self-latching gates, rescue equipment, a phone and other important life-saving measures near the pool.

- The CPSC says that if your child is missing, first check for the child in a pool or area around water first.

- You may think that your child will make a lot of noise if they're drowning, like screams and splashes.  The CPSC says that is often not the case, and children silently fall into the water.

You can also click these links from the CPSC:

- Pool safety

Tips for safety in and around water

- Safety barrier guidelines for pools

- Planning for the unexpected

- Preventing child in-home drowning deaths