As the weather heats up, many families are cooling off by enjoying a swim in pools, lakes and rivers. But because drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in kids from one to four, and one of the leading causes of death in teenagers, it is critically important to take the proper precautions to keep kids safe when they are in and around water. In 2017, almost 1,000 children died from drowning in the U.S., and there were approximately 8,700 emergency room visits for drowning.
Additionally, near-drowning can be devastating, causing an anoxic brain injury that can lead to significant lifelong problems. Losing a child to drowning is a tragedy that is preventable.
There are many layers of protection that can be employed in ensuring water safety. When kids are swimming or even near the water, assign a designated adult “water watcher.” This person should remain free of distractions, such as socializing, reading or using a cellphone, and should not be drinking alcohol. Even if there is a lifeguard on duty or other adults around, it is still very important to have an adult monitoring the kids because drowning is often silent and can happen very quickly. Adults can take turns rotating this simple and important job.
For younger kids or those who are not very strong swimmers, it is important to employ what is called “touch supervision.” This entails being in the water with the kids and remaining an arm’s-length away. Many young swimmers wear “floaties” while in the pool, but these can provide a false sense of security. They can allow kids to brave deeper water or go farther away from their supervising adult, or become deflated. Additionally, if kids remove them when they get out for a break, they may forget to replace them before venturing back into the water. And if enjoying our state’s lakes or rivers, wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. New Mexico law requires that any kids under the age of 13 must be wearing a life jacket if they are on any watercraft.
Home swimming pools are fun, but can be particularly risky unless properly protected. Home drownings occur during both swim and non-swim times, highlighting the importance of securing the home pool when not in use. By simply surrounding the pool with a 48-inch fence, one can reduce the risk of drowning by 50%! It is also important to have a self-closing and self-latching gate to keep kids out of the pool area during non-swim times. Make sure to remove all pool toys and rafts to eliminate the temptation for kids to retrieve them from the water as they can accidentally fall in. Other drowning dangers at home include wading pools, buckets of water and bathtubs as kids can drown in less than two inches of water. Empty wading pools and buckets immediately after use, and keep kids out of the bathroom unless they are with an adult.
Learning how to swim is a life skill. It is one of the most important things that can be done to prevent drowning in kids, and it is never too late for adults to learn to swim. Children are usually ready to learn to swim between the ages of one and four. Talk to your pediatrician to see if your child is developmentally ready to start swim lessons. There are many pools on the cabq.gov website that offer low-cost swim lessons; the University of New Mexico pool offers lessons; and there are many private instructors, as well. When choosing swim lessons for your child, make sure they are age-appropriate, are given by qualified instructors and include training on what to do if your child ends up in the water unintentionally.
Learning CPR is something that older children and adults should also consider. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some excellent information on drowning prevention that can be found at http://aap.org/drowning, and the www.healthychildren.org site has some wonderful information and resources, as well.
Don’t forget, free swim passes will be available through September 1 on a first-come, first-served basis and are available only while supplies last. Check the cabq.gov website for distribution locations. Albuquerque’s parks and community centers are also often locations for the Free Summer Meals program, which provides free meals to all kids from 1 to 18 years old. Many locations provide both breakfast and lunch. See summerfoodnm.org for more information.
Here’s to a fun, and safe, summer!
Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.