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5 Ways you Might be Missing a Drowning Victim

Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP, Board Certified Pediatrician
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

We’ve all seen the movies: a drowning victim flailing in the ocean, bobbing up and down, and screaming loudly for help. But you may be surprised to know that this Hollywood version of drowning often misrepresents what drowning actually looks like. While we all hope to never have to experience this, it is vitally important to know what a person actually looks like when they are in trouble in the water.

Although it’s hard to believe, many drowning children have adults nearby who have no idea the kids are even in trouble. Would you be able to recognize if a child was drowning?

1. Drowning victims are usually unable to call for help. Their primary goal when drowning is to breathe, and they will not waste their precious breath on attempting to speak.

2. Drowning victims do not bob their heads up and down in the water. When drowning, a victim’s mouth usually sinks just below water level, resurfacing but not long enough to exhale, inhale, and then call for help. The head is usually tilted back with the mouth open just under the water.

3. Drowning victims are usually unable to wave for help. Instead, their arms are usually extended out to their sides, pushing down on the water in an attempt to provide buoyancy so they can lift their mouths out of the water to take a breath.

4. Drowning victims may not respond when called. Often, the eyes will be glassy, and they are unable to focus on anything going on around them.

5. Drowning victims will remain vertical in the water, unable to support themselves by kicking.

Some people will be able to wave and cry out in the first several seconds but will then progress to any of the instances listed above. Unless rescued, it is estimated that most people are only able to struggle on the surface of the water for no more than 20–60 seconds before becoming submerged.

Even if your child knows how to swim, constant supervision must be maintained at all times as even good swimmers can tire quickly. A few seconds of distraction on your part can be devastating.

Sources:

  • Pediatrics
  • Prevention of Drowning.

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