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How to Spot Drowning Both In and Out of Water

Monday, June 10, 2019 9:00 AM

By: Lauren McRae

It doesn’t matter how old you or your children are – it is important to always be on the lookout for signs of drowning. Nadim Ilbawi, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, explains what signs we should look for while in or near water.

Signs of Drowning

Drowning in water happens when there is water that comes into contact with the voice box. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death. Signs of drowning are:

  • The swimmer is near or below eye level of the water.
  • His or her head is tilted back and the mouth makes an “O” shape.
  • Swimmer starts to sink underwater.

Contrary to Hollywood’s depictions of drowning, it is often a quiet struggle. Swimmers cannot call out for help and have a hard time staying above water and/or splashing.

There are two types of drowning out of the water: dry and secondary. Dry drowning usually happens shortly after leaving the water when water causes the vocal chords to spasm and close up. Secondary drowning can happen 24 hours after leaving the water when airways are open and water is let into the lungs. Signs of secondary drowning are:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Labored breathing such as rapid shallow breathing, nostril flaring or the chest visibly expanding to work harder
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Increased forgetfulness or irritability
  • Vomiting

If you or your child experiences any of the above, seek immediate medical care to prevent any serious medical complications or death. Also, any swimmer who has been rescued from the water should receive medical attention as a precaution.

How to prevent drowning:

  • Swim lessons will help increase skill and comfort in the water.
  • Constant supervision in and near water.
  • Swimmers should follow rules such as no running near the pool, do not go out too far from shore and no horseplay.
  • Flotation devices are recommended for small and beginner swimmers.

What age were your children when you first enrolled them in swim lessons?