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Drowning

The summer months provide us with some of our most memorable moments of childhood.  However, tragedies peak during the summer months because children have more free time, are supervised less and are involved in more outdoor activities.

One very preventable tragedy during these warm months is drowning.

Nonfatal incidents (or near drowning) can cause brain damage that result in long-term disabilities including memory problems and learning disabilities if not worse.

How common is drowning in children?

  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the pediatric age group.
  • In the United States, drowning rates are the highest among children ages 1 through 2 years.
  • According to CDC’s National Injury Prevention and Control, in 2002, there were 3,447 unintentional drownings in the United States, 838 involved children ages 0 to 14 years. This does not include drownings in boating-related incidents.
  • For every child 14 years and younger who drowns, 3 receive ER care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
    According to the CDC, more than 40% of these children require hospitalization.

What are some of the causes of drowning or near drowning in children?

  • inadequate supervision of small children around bathtubs and pools
  • alcohol use while boating or swimming (alcohol use is involved in about 25% to 50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation)
  • inability to swim or panic while swimming
  • falling through thin ice
  • head injury or seizures while in the water

Who is at risk for drowning?



Males: In 2002, males accounted for 80% of drownings in the United States.

Children: Although drowning rates have slowly declined over the years, according to the CDC, drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years.

African Americans: Factors such as the environment (e.g., access to swimming pools) may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates between African Americans and white Americans.
African-American children ages 5 to 19 years drowned at 2.7 times the rate of white children in this age group during 2001–2002.

Where do children drown?

  • Each year many young children drown in swimming pools, other bodies of water, and standing water around the home.
  • Children under age one most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets.
  • Among children ages 1 to 4 years, most drownings occur in residential swimming pools.
    Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.

How can near drowning cause injury to a child?

  • Bodily harm from near-drowning is caused primarily by lack of oxygen to the brain, as well as direct lung injury.

I want to build a swimming pool at my house. What are some safety tips for having my child around a swimming pool?

Here are 10 safety tips:

  1. Never leave your children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment.
  2. You must put up a fence to separate your house from the pool. Most young children who drown in pools wander out of the house and fall into the pool. Install a fence at least 4 feet high around all 4 sides of the pool.
  3. Use gates that self-close and self-latch, with latches higher than your children’s reach.
  4. A power safety cover that meets the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) adds to the protection of your children but should not be used in place of the fence between your house and the pool.
  5. Keep rescue equipment (such as a shepherd’s hook or life preserver) by the pool.
  6. Do not let your child use air-filled “swimming aids” because they are not a substitute for approved life vests and can be dangerous.
  7. Anyone watching young children around a pool should learn CPR and be able to rescue a child if needed.
  8. Stay within an arm’s length of your child.
  9. Remove all toys from the pool after use so children aren’t tempted to reach for them.
  10. After the children are done swimming, secure the pool so they can’t get back into it.

Remember, teaching your child how to swim DOES NOT mean your child is safe in water.

And also, even fencing around your pool and using a power safety cover will not prevent all drownings.

Will swim lessons for my preschooler prevent drowning?

The quick answer is that while Infant and toddler swim programs may help with aquatic adjustment and swimming readiness skills, they are not designed to teach children to become accomplished swimmers or to survive independently in the water. Here are several points to make on this issue:

  1. No data is currently available to determine if infant and toddler water programs increase or decrease the likelihood of drowning.
  2. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children are generally not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons until age 4 (1).My take: some children develop skills more quickly than others, thus not all children will be ready to learn to swim at the exact age. The decision of when to start a child in swimming lessons should be individualized.
  3. Aquatic programs for infants and toddlers should not be promoted as a way to decrease the risk of drowning and parents should try to avoid a false sense of security that your child is safe from drowning after participation in a swimming program.
  4. Stay within one arms length of your infant/toddler at all times while in the pool.

Infant and preschool programs are available by such organizations as the American Red Cross and the YMCA.

How can drowning be prevented in children out on open water such as a lake or pond?

  1. Your children should wear life jackets at all times when on boats or near bodies of water.
  2. Teach your child how to put on his or her own life jacket.
  3. Make sure your child is comfortable wearing a life jacket and knows how to use it.
  4. Make sure the life jacket is the right size for your child. The jacket should not be loose. It should always be worn as instructed with all straps belted.
  5. Blow-up water wings, toys, rafts, and air mattresses should never be used as life jackets or life preservers.
  6. Adults should wear life jackets for their own protection and to set a good example.
  7. Children must be watched by an adult at all times when in or near water.

What are some other safety tips to prevent drowning around the house?

  1. Empty all buckets, pails, and bathtubs completely after each use – do not leave them filled and unattended. Children may drown in an inch or 2 of water.
  2. Keep young children out of the bathroom unless they are closely watched. Teach others in the home to keep the bathroom door closed. Install a hook-and-eye latch or doorknob cover on the outside of the door.
  3. Never leave a child alone in a bathtub or in the care of another child, even for a moment.
  4. Use a rigid, lockable cover on a hot tub, spa, or whirlpool.
  5. Watch children closely when they are playing near wells, open post holes, or irrigation or drainage ditches. Fill in empty holes or have fences installed to protect your child.
  6. Learn CPR and know how to get emergency help.

1) Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics 2000;105:868-870.