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June 29, 2013

Summer Safety: Quiet Drowning

-- — Flailing, screaming, splashing water — all of these come to mind when people think of drowning. However, the truth is these signs rarely signify that someone is drowning. Drowning is quieter and much easier to miss for the untrained eye.

Television and movies have taught society that when a person is drowning, it will be extremely obvious to onlookers. This lesson is actually dangerous and far from the truth. When a person is drowning, they typically only have 20 to 60 seconds to be rescued.

According to the Valdosta YMCA, “Drowning can happen quickly.  A victim can slip underwater quietly with little water disturbance, since they often do not have the strength to call out or signal for help.”

The YMCA shared some of the early warning signs of drowning that their lifeguards are taught.

Inability to respond verbally: One of the most widely used signs for drowning in movies and television is that the person will yell help. When a person is drowning, they are often unable to call for help. This occurs because the human body’s first function for the respiratory system is to breathe. A drowning person will be so focused breathing that they will often be unable to scream for help.

Holding arms out to the side: Another sign often used to represent drowning is flailing arms and waving for help. The truth is drowning victims are sometimes unable to wave for help. When a person is drowning, their natural instinct is to push their arms horizontally, straight to the side, against the water to keep their mouth above water. Victims will be focused on staying above the water, but their natural instincts will kick in and the body does not often react by flailing or splashing.  

These are not the only signs that a person is drowning. Some other signs to look out for include glassy eyes, hair over forehead or eyes and having their mouth below water level. When it appears that a person could be drowning, perhaps they are quiet and staring up towards the sky

 but they are not screaming or flailing, then you should ask them directly “Are you ok.” If the person responds, then they are safe. If the person does not respond, then react quickly and help them if possible, because their window for safety is small.  

Adults are not the only ones at risk of drowning. A child drowning is especially hard to notice if a parent is expecting the child to flail or scream. According to Reader’s Digest, the easiest way to keep an eye out for your child, is to keep an ear out for them. When children are swimming, they are loud and rambunctious. If a child is quiet, that can be a sign that something is not right. Keeping an ear on a child can save their life.  

It is important for swimmers and parents to stay up to date and informed on swimming dangers, especially during the summer. When at the beach or pool, always try to swim near a lifeguard as lifeguards are tested and trained on signs of drowning and how to react.

At the Valdosta YMCA, “the safety of our members and the members of our community is a high priority,” says YMCA CEO Larry Tobey.  

Ongoing training is an important component for the lifeguards and swim instructors (who are also certified lifeguards) at the YMCA.  In-services are held every two weeks, and regular “dummy drops” are used to ensure that the lifeguards remain vigilant.

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