July 04, 2013
Danielle Lacey

Beyond the Basics: Pool Safety

We all know not to dive in the shallow end, but here are a few more precautions to ensure you have a safe summer.

Swimmers in the pool
Children make a lot of noise when they're in the pool. If they're not, check to ensure everyone is okay. Photo by Nate Cowen

Everyone knows the basic guidelines for pool safety: No running around the deck. No horseplay. Assign an adult to keep an eye on all young swimmers. But there are a few advanced tips that can help keep swimmers safe as families head to the pool.

"The most important thing is to always watch your child in the water," said Khannie Dastgah, program coordinator at Simon Recreation Center. "People tend to think that children get to an age where they're safe in the water, but I don't think there's ever an age where children are safe to swim alone."

In fact, drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children ages 1 and 4 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control and recognizing it can be tricky.

Know what drowning looks like

There are many myths surrounding drowning. There are no shouts for help, waving arms or thrashing in the water. That's how drowning looks in Hollywood, but in real life, it is surprisingly quieter.

Researchers have studied the behavior of drowning people and have identified what they call the "instinctive drowning response." Far from the dramatic scene many people picture, the instinctive actually prevents victims from speaking or moving their limbs. It's quick, too. Lasting no more than 20 to 60 seconds.

The response is marked by:

  • Inability to call for help. As the body struggles to keep breathing, speech is inhibited.
  • Repetitive arm and leg movements that push the body upward in an attempt to keep the head above water
  • The body remaining in a upright position with no supporting kick.

That's not to say those who are yelling and flailing don't need assistance; however, they are suffering from what has been called "aquatic distress," or panic because of either fatigue or overestimation of their own skills.

The best way to determine if someone needs assistance is to ask them. If the person is unable to answer, get to them quickly.

Dastgah also recommends that parents discourage children from playing breath-holding games. Children can easily tire themselves out by repeatedly submerging themselves underwater. Often, they overestimate their ability to hold their breath under deep water.

"Our natural reaction when we need air is to open our mouth and our brain may not be aware if we're out of the water or above water at that point," said Dastgah.

Watch out for dry drowning and delayed drowning

Water safety doesn't always end when the swimmers get out of the pool. If a swimmer has a near-drowning incident, he or she may still be in danger of dry drowning or delayed drowning.

"The aquatics industry as a whole has been trying to educated people on dry drowning and children holding their breath underwater," said Dastgah.

In dry drowning, the larynx shuts off to prevent water from flowing into the lungs, which can eventually lead to laryngospasms that can prevent the person from getting adequate oxygen.

Delayed drowning is when the swimmer drowns on inhaled water. It doesn't take much water to cause either condition and drowning can occur even 24 hours after the exposure to water. They may be out of the body of water, but the water is still in their bodies.

If a swimmer demonstrates symptoms such as difficult, painful or shallow breathing, chest pain, persistent cough or pale/blueish skin, they may be at risk.

As alarming as these dangers can sound, the good news is that they are all preventable. Knowledge and awareness can keep a day at the beach or pool safe and enjoyable for everyone.

"The most important thing is that parents should be watching their own child," Dastgah said. "The lifeguard is paid to watch every patron in the pool; parents are the ones who need to be watching their own children."

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