Summer brings plenty of fun and joy, but also a few dangers, which is why The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is promoting ways to keep kids safe from drowning or being disabled by a near-drowning event.
Dr. Tracy McCallin, a pediatric emergency practitioner at Children’s Hospital under the Christus Health medical umbrella, said drownings can take place very quickly, but just a few common-sense steps by parents and guardians can ensure kids have a safe dip when they go into the water.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet families affected by drowning and hear their stories,” said McCallin, a mother of two boys. “These were loving, caring, attentive families who, in a brief moment, lost a child they can never get back, and their lives have been forever changed.”
“Every drowning is a tragedy, and seeing even one child who has drowned is one too many,” she added.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drowning or near-drowning is the leading cause of injury or death in U.S. for children ages 1 to 4, and the third leading cause of unintentional death or injury among children and adolescents 5 to 19 years of age.
In 2017, nearly 1,000 children under age 20 in the United States died by drowning.
That year also saw an estimated 8,700 children younger than 20 visit a hospital emergency department for a near-drowning event, with 25 percent of that number being admitted or transferred for further care.
McCallin recalled the case of a young girl brought into the ER with trouble breathing after a near-drowning episode. The child required a breathing tube and was admitted to the intensive care unit because of inflammation and fluid in her lungs.
After being on a ventilator for a few days, the girl made a full recovery and was discharged, the physician said. But, not all children are so fortunate. Medical officials say one out of five children who survive a drowning event will suffer brain damage.
Drowning happens quickly and quietly, with many drownings in the toddler age occurring when children were not expected to be in the water. In many of these cases, the child typically slipped unseen out of the home and perished in a pool.
But there are remedies for parents and guardians to reduce drowning or near-drowning episodes, medical officials said.
McCallin said four-sided barrier fencing, which isolates the pool from the home, is the most proven way to prevent children from accessing the water when they shouldn’t.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends families do a walk-through to check the environment whenever they are in an unfamiliar place by becoming aware of all possible water risks and whether there are barriers to keep kids out of the pool.
In addition to barriers, medical professionals cited the most important way to prevent drowning is with constant, close supervision by a designated adult or a lifeguard who is free from distractions, including cellphones, social media and alcohol.
This designated adult should stay within arm’s reach of all children in or near the water at all times. Other safety-prevention measures include swim lessons and wearing a life jacket.
The AAP defines drowning as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.”
This, according to Dr. Linda Quan of the American Red Cross, means drowning happened only when there was some trouble breathing right after the submersion.
“If a person was in the water and had no breathing troubles after being rescued, then regardless of what happens later, the person did not drown,” said Quan said in an article on the American Red Cross website.
The article also states drowning deaths do not occur due to unexpected deterioration of a person’s condition days or weeks later with no preceding symptoms.
Drowning, McCallin agreed, does not occur at a later time in children who had previously looked well.
“This just does not happen and families can be reassured that if their child has no problems after coughing, sputtering or swallowing water, they will not later develop symptoms of a drowning event,” McCallin said.
According to the doctor, children who experience serious after-effects from water submersion will show changes such as trouble breathing or lethargy within one to two hours after coming out.
The AAP policy goes on to state that in the case of a drowning, “terms such as wet, dry, secondary, active, near, passive and silent drowning should not be used.”
McCallin said pediatricians should educate caregivers that dry drowning, in which water is taken in through the nose or mouth causing the muscles in the windpipe to constrict to protect the lungs, and secondary drowning, in which water accumulates in the lungs causing difficulty breathing, are not medically accurate terms.
The pediatrician has an informative video and a blog post on the Children’s Hospital website that details drowning-prevention tips for families.
For more, visit her commentary at https://chofsablog.org/2017/04/20/keep-your-kids-safe-around-water/.
For details about Children’s Hospital of San Antonio or Christus Health, visit www.chofsa.org.