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How To Reduce Children’s Risk of Drowning

It’s the height of pool season, so our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach want to make parents aware that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for young children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most children ages one through four drown in home swimming pools.

In addition, for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for non-fatal submersion injuries. These non-fatal 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 functioning (e.g., a persistent vegetative state), the CDC warns.


New ‘drown-proofing’ recommendations


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released updated guidelines recommending swimming lessons for toddlers, revising long-standing guidance against swimming lessons for children under age four. The new recommendations call for formal swimming lessons beginning at around the age of one.

In addition to teaching your child basic water skills, it is critical to be vigilant at all times to prevent a tragedy. Young children can drown in as little as two inches of water, and within 90 seconds without breathing, oxygen in the brain begins to drop. Other experts cautioned that the perception of children flailing around in the water when they fall in is largely a myth. Very young children tend to fall in and immediately sink.

“Don’t even run into the house for a second to go to the bathroom or grab the phone,” Dr. Mark Waltzman, a pediatric emergency medicine expert, told CBS News.


Other suggestions from AAP to prevent drowning include the following:

  • Parents should never leave children alone or in the care of another child while in or near bathtubs, pools, spas, or other open water.
  • Empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use.
  • Never leave young children alone in the bathroom. Toilet locks can prevent drowning of toddlers.
  • Even with older children and better swimmers, the supervising adult should focus on the child and not get distracted with other activities.

Pool safety for children

Tips for homes with pools include these useful guidelines:

  • Never turn your back on a child in the water, even for a moment.
  • For infants and toddlers, an adult should be in the water and within arm’s reach, providing “touch supervision.”
  • Be sure to install child-proof fencing all the way around the pool. Fences should be at least four feet high, with self-closing and self-latching doors that open outward. Fences should be climb-resistant, i.e., have no footholds or handholds that would allow them to climb it.
  • Chain-link fences are not recommended, but if used, the diamond shape should not be bigger than 1 ¾ inches.
  • Consider door alarms for those that open directly into the pool area.
  • Also remove any structures that would allow them to circumvent the fence, such as ladders and toys.
  • Keep toys away from the pool when not in use.
  • Do not allow tricycles or other wheeled toys at poolside.
  • If a child is missing, always check the pool first—seconds count.
  • Empty portable or blow-up pools when not in use.
  • Always make sure a responsible adult is watching the children playing in or near the pool area (with no distractions, e.g., smartphones off).
  • The supervising adult must know how to swim.
  • The supervising adult should not be drinking alcohol or ingesting any drug—prescription or not—that might impair judgment or attention.
  • Pool covers should cover the entire pool so that a child can’t slip under them.
  • Make sure there is no standing water on top of the pool cover.
  • Be aware that floating solar covers are not safety covers.

As the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns in its campaign to prevent child drownings, “Sometimes, there’s no do-over,” as countless heartbroken parents have discovered too late.

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