DROWNING: THE SILENT ACCIDENT

August 13, 2019

DROWNING: THE SILENT ACCIDENT

ThedaCare Pediatrician Urging Parents to Know the Dangers

DARBOY, Wis. – On average, 10 Americans die every day from a drowning accident, not including boating accidents, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).

“Drowning is one of the highest causes of accidental death for children under the age of five,” said Abby Smolcich, MD, a pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy. “It is something we need to keep in mind at all times when children are around water.”

Dr. Smolcich explained there are two age ranges in which drowning is most likely to occur. The first is children under the age of five and the second is males between the ages of 15 to 25.

The NSC reported that drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death through age 15, adding that 353 people aged five to 24 drowned in 2017.

Dr. Smolcich noted that babies under the age of one typically drown in a bathtub, a bucket of water or a small kiddy pool, while those aged one to five typically drown in a backyard pool. For teens and older children, drowning usually occurs in a lake or river. 

For males in their teens and early 20s, their tendency toward risk-taking behavior contributes to the drowning rate, as does the use of drugs and alcohol, she explained.

“Drowning is a silent accident,” Dr. Smolcich added. “People think they will hear the child fall into the pool or they will be thrashing about, which will get their attention. That’s not what happens. Typically the child will wander off into the pool area and accidentally fall in before the parents or adult caretakers notice they’re missing.”

Those brief moments can lead to tragedy.

“For children ages one to four, inadequate adult supervision is the greatest risk factor for drowning,” she said. “That’s followed by overestimating the child’s ability to swim, then the parents or caretakers using drugs or alcohol while watching the child, and lastly not having adequate flotation devices for the child’s size.”

She noted the American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips for preventing drowning:

  • Install a 4 foot, 4-sided, isolation fence with a self-closing, self- latching gate around any pool to separate the pool from the house and the rest of the yard.
  • Keep a telephone and rescue equipment approved by the US Coast Guard (e.g., life buoys, life jackets, and a reach tool, such as a shepherd's crook) by the pool.
  • When visiting a home or business with a pool or hot tub, parents should carefully assess the premises to ensure basic barriers are in place, such as sliding door locks and pool fences with closed gates that are in good working order and ensure that supervision will be consistent.
  • Learn CPR.
  • During a pool party, parents and adults should take turns tapping in as the "designated watcher" and fully focus on the kids playing in or around a pool.
  • If swimming at a beach or lake, choose a location with lifeguards and designated areas for swimming.
  • Teach kids to stay away from bodies of water in all seasons, even winter when they are covered in ice.

“I feel every parent should know how to do CPR to protect their children from so many situations,” she stressed. “In a drowning situation, starting CPR immediately is vital.”

She cautioned, however, that removing the drowning victim from the pool or body of water may not always be the best course of action.

“If someone dove into the shallow end of a pool or lake, they may have a neck injury, so removing them could do more harm,” she explained. “In those situations, it’s important to support the victim in the water until paramedics arrive. Whenever there’s a drowning incident, someone should call 911 immediately to get professional medical assistance on the scene.”

Dr. Smolcich also noted that drowning isn’t always fatal. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that an estimated 6,400 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms between 2015 and 2017 for non-fatal drowning injuries.

“Non-fatal drowning incidents happen more frequently than fatal drownings,” she said. “Such accidents can cause brain and other neurological damage that may have life-long consequences, may pre-dispose the victim to higher risk of infections and create issues with blood pressure regulation.”

Dr. Smolcich wants caregivers to understand the dangers and take the necessary precautions.

“Vigilance around any body of water is extremely important for people of all ages,” she said. “The importance of conscientious adult supervision of babies, toddlers, and young children around bathtubs or any body of water cannot be overstated.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.