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Drowning prevention tips from Dr. Alix Casler, pediatrician

May 18, 2015

TGIS! Thank goodness it’s summer!

Around our city moms and children are breathing a collective sigh of relief that the school year is coming to an end and the lazy (or at least lazier) days of summer are finally here. However, along with the lovely warm weather there are risks. According to the Florida Department of Health, “Florida loses more children under age 5 to drowning than any other state. Annually in Florida, enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown and do not live to see their fifth birthday.” Florida has by far the highest unintentional drowning rate in the nation for the 1 to 4-year-old age group AND for the 1 to 14-year-old population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. More than 50% of those patients require hospitalization, and many of these children suffer from permanent brain damage.

Be sure to build in layers of protection for your child’s safety

That Florida leads the way with drowning and near drowning incidents sort of makes sense, as we live where water is everywhere: lakes, retention ponds, rivers, the ocean, and back yard swimming pools. What does not make sense is how many of these drownings could have been avoided simply by following the recommended “layers of protection: supervision, barriers, and emergency preparedness.” It is our job as parents and community members to meet the challenge that our warm and watery climate poses to our children.

Provide constant, alert adult supervision

Parents swimming with childNo matter how good a swimmer someone is, no one should ever swim alone. Even a strong swimmer can run into trouble in the water. Children playing in or near the water should never be left without constant, alert adult supervision. Water wings and floaties are inadequate and are not recommended by water safety experts. Most children who drowned in swimming pools were in the care of one or both parents and missing from sight for less than 5 minutes. This means that at gatherings and parties, a designated (and sober) adult supervisor is a must. Any brief distraction such as reading a book (drowning is silent), getting involved in a conversation or running inside the house to answer the door or the phone leaves time for a child to drown. Finally, children should never be left to supervise one another. A toddler recently drowned in the family pool in southern California while being “supervised” by siblings who were between the ages of 14 and 19. A teen may seem responsible, but maturity is a must when it comes to something like water, where there are no second chances.

Maintain adequate barriers around all bodies of water

In the early 2000’s the Florida Department of Health determined that three quarters of toddler pool drownings occurred because the child got into the pool through a door leading from the house to the pool area. Multiple layers of barriers should be used to make backyard pools inaccessible to children, and these barriers must be maintained so they are in proper condition. Pools should be surrounded on all four sides by a wall or fence barrier that is at least 5 feet high. The bars or slats should be less than 5 inches apart. Pool and spa areas should be locked or latched when not in use. Keep doors leading to the water closed and locked. Ideally, doors and gates should be self-closing and self-latching. Door and window alarms are a good second layer of protection. Drain covers should be well-maintained and everyone should know where the pump shut-off switch is in case of entrapment in the pool drain. For more information on proper pool barriers, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools.

Be prepared in case of emergency

As noted above, someone should always know where the shut-off switch is in case of pool drain entrapment. Simple rescue gear should be nearby, such as a pole and flotation devices. Finally, parents should all be trained in CPR. Check out Thumbtack to find many classes in your area or visit the local Red Cross. Keep a phone nearby to access 911 in an instant if the unthinkable happens.

Consider survival swim lessons

Young girl floating in poolI would be remiss if I did not mention the YMCA’s Safe Start Program. This program began as Infant Swimming Resource and has evolved into one of the largest and most successful drowning prevention programs in the country. NEVER a substitute for adult supervision, Safe Start can mean the difference between lifting your smiling, floating child from the water and pulling your unconscious child from the bottom of the pool. Safe Start teaches children as young as 6 months of age to roll over in the water and float on their backs, even if they fall into the water fully clothed. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the cost of the lessons at a Central Florida YMCA. Arnold Palmer and Winnie Palmer Hospitals and Orlando Health Physician Associates are proud sponsors of Safe Start.

Have a safe, healthy, and happy summer!

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