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Bits and Pieces: Drowning

Ann Welch ann4plus1@yahoo.com
Ann Welch ann4plus1@yahoo.com

This information from Mario Vittone’s blog was printed on the internet on June 4, 2013. It provides very useful information on how to determine if someone is drowning. In many cases involving children parents can be very close by their children in the water and not realize they are drowning. We have the mistaken idea that waving, splashing, and yelling are signals that someone is drowning, but in fact drowning is almost always a quiet event. The Instinctive Drowning Response, named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph. D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. It does not look like what people expect because there is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling for help of any kind. Drowning is the number 2 cause of death of children aged 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) and of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year about 375 of them will drown within 25 yards of their parents. Dr. Pia says drowning does not look like drowning, and he describes the Instinctive Drowning Response like this:

1. Drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. Since the respiratory system was designed for breathing, speech is the secondary function. Breathing must occur before speech.

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

3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the water’s surface 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 reach 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 evidence of supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the water’s surface from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

This doesn’t mean that someone yelling for help and thrashing is not in real trouble. Not always present before the Instinctive Drowning Response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long, but unlike true drowning these victims can still assist in their own rescue.

Other signs of drowning:

*Head low in the water, mouth at water level

*Head tilted back with mouth open

*Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus

*Eyes closed

*Hair over forehead or eyes

*Not using legs—vertical

*Hyperventilating or gasping

*Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway

*Trying to roll over on the back

*Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

So here’s what needs to be remembered: someone that is actually drowning may not look like they are. Ask if they are all right. If they can, they probably are. If they give you a blank stare you may have less than 30 seconds to rescue them. If you are a parent with children playing noisily in the water and they get quiet, get to them and find out why. Drowning certainly is a preventable tragedy.

With summer upon us with lots of fun in the water to look forward to, keep this information in mind. It can certainly help save lives.

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