Drownings look different than many of us think

11:26 PM, Jun 19, 2013   |    comments
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  • SAGAMORE HILLS, Ohio -- In a pool full of swimmers, could you spot the one in distress?

    As your neighborhood pool heats up this summer, keep this in mind: Ohio ranks third in the states with the highest number of children who drown in swimming pools.

    Many times those drownings happen while an adult is around.

    Contrary to Hollywood, where movies and television depict drownings as dramatic acts, where the victims flail and yell for help, real-life drownings are much harder to spot.

    "That's why we teach the lifeguard to not just look at the top of the water, but the middle and bottom of the pool," says Kevin Kreeger.

    Kreeger is the Aquatics Director at Hastings Water Works.

    Hastings manages community pools all over Northeast Ohio, provides swim lessons, and trains approximately 450 lifeguards each summer.

    Kreeger says a drowning is much subtler than people imagine it to be.

    "It's very silent. There's no noise coming out. [The victim] will go into a mode where they go into survival. They're trying to breathe so they can't call for help. They're bobbing in and out of the water, gasping for air," Kreeger said.

    Kreeger says every last bit of energy a drowning person has they use to push themselves up to take a breath, before falling back below the surface.

    The bobbing and gasping for air lasts until the body tires and the victim slips under the water for good.

    Usually a drowning person will struggle for 10 to 20 seconds.

    Loss of consciousness sets in around 60 seconds under water.

    "On a hot summer day, pools can have 300 to 400 people. You can't spot every single person that could be struggling," Kreeger said.

    Kreeger says that's why it is very important for parents to not treat the lifeguards as babysitters.

    Parental vigilance is a key piece to saving a child from struggling in the water.

    From the US Coast Guard, written in 2006:

    Characteristics of the Instinctive Drowning Response

    1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

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

    3. Drowning people can not wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water 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 can not voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water can not stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching 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 a supporting kick. Unless recused by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

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