The Danger of Drowning: Know the Facts

Floating LifebealtSummer is the season for outdoor fun. Some of the most popular activities, like swimming and boating, can also be among the deadliest. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of injury or death in the United States. Believe it or not,  approximately ten people die from drowning every day.

From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal drownings annually in the United States. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 years and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive hospital care for non-fatal submersion injuries.

More than 50 percent of drowning victims treated in emergency rooms require hospitalization or transfer for further care. Nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functions.

Who is most at risk?

  • Males. Nearly 80 percent of drowning deaths are male.
  • Children. Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2009, 30 percent of the deaths in this age group were from drowning; it was the second leading cause of death after congenital birth defects.  Most of these drownings occur in home swimming pools. Among children 1 to 14 years, fatal drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicles.
  • Minorities. Between 2005-2009, the fatal drowning rate for African-Americans was significantly higher than that of Caucasians across all ages. The fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages 5-14 is almost three times that of Caucasian children in the same age group.  Factors such as access to swimming pools, the lack of desire to learn to swim, and choosing water related recreational activities may contribute to the difference in drowning rates between races.

What factors influence your risk of drowning?

  • Lack of swimming ability. Research has shown that participating in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning.
  • Lack of pool barriers. Barriers such as pool fencing prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without the caregiver’s awareness. A four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child’s risk of drowning 83 percent compared to the three-sided property line fencing.
  • Lack of close supervision. Drowning can occur quickly wherever water is present (lakes, rivers, swimming pools), even in the presence of lifeguards.
  • Location. Most child drownings ages 1 to 4 occur in home swimming pools. The percentage of drownings in natural water settings (lakes, rivers, oceans) increases with age. More than half of the fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older occurred in natural water settings.
  • Failure to use life jackets. In 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that most boating deaths (72 percent) occurred because victims were not wearing life jackets in natural water settings.
  • Alcohol use. Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgement, and the effects are heightened by the sun and heat exposure.

How can you stay safe in the water?

  • Provide supervision in and around water. Designate a responsible adult to watch young children. Supervisors should provide “touch supervision” where they are close enough to reach the child at all times.
  • Use the Buddy System. Always swim with a buddy.
  • Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices. Water wings or noodles are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Install a four-sided fence around swimming pools. The fence should be 4 feet tall at a minimum. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open inward with latches out of the reach of children. Also, consider additional barriers such as automatic door locks and alarms to prevent access or alert you if someone enters the pool area.
  • Clear the pool and pool deck of toys. Remove all floats, balls, and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.

With the proper precautions, your summer can be fun-filled and accident-free.  Please share any additional tips you might have.

Content of this blog courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

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