Combine a heatwave with thousands of miles of beaches and tens of thousands of pools, and it’s the perfect combination for water fun. But along with the fun of swimming, body surfing or just paddling around come some real dangers – including the risk for drowning. Statistics show that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury and death for children ages one to four, and that drowning can occur in as little as two inches of water.
Maribeth Chitkara, MD, assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Pediatric Hospitalist, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, is a committed advocate for summer safety, and shares the steps parents can take to keep the entire family safe all summer long.
“The single, most-important thing is to never take your eyes off children who are in the water,” says Chitkara. “Not even for a few seconds.”
If you are at a party or with a group of people, Chitkara says to have what the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force calls a “designated water-watcher.” Designate one person to keep a watchful eye on the children and rotate the assignment every 20 minutes or so to keep the watcher fresh.
“It is important to keep an eye on children and especially toddlers when around any kind of water – small kiddie pools, toilets, buckets of water when washing the car and the like.”
Some other water safety tips from Chitkara include:
- If a lifeguard is present, never assume that he or she will serve as your eyes.
- Always keep a phone near the pool.
- If you have a pool, complete four-sided isolation fencing can prevent 50 to 90 percent of child drownings or near drownings.
- You may consider investing in safety covers for pools, whirlpools and spa tubs.
- If you have an infant or toddler, use a toilet seat lock.
- Keep in mind that water reflects the sun’s rays. For protection against harmful rays, be sure to use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Reapply frequently, especially after going into the water.
- If you will be outdoors for a good part of the day, be sure to stay hydrated to prevent heat stroke or exhaustion – especially if you are also exercising. Water is the best source of hydration for the body, and a good rule of thumb to remember is the “8 x 8” and “10 x 10 rule”: Women should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily and men should drink ten 10-ounce glasses daily.
If someone is drowning, Chitkara says it is important to get the person out of the water as soon as possible to get oxygen to their brain. If possible, move the person safely onto land; if they cannot be moved, call for help immediately. If there is a lifeguard present, enlist his or her aid, they are trained in water rescue and resuscitation. Otherwise, call 911 immediately.
“Once the person has been rescued, appropriate and timely medical treatment is essential,” says Chitkara
With near drowning, the victim suffers oxygen deprivation, which can cause long-term brain damage. “In these cases, every minute counts,” says Chitkara. “Whenever possible, the victim should be taken to a Level 1 Trauma Center – a designation indicating the highest level of care – where trauma experts are experienced in caring for near-drowning patients. This will save valuable time in transferring a patient should serious problems arise.”