How can we prevent children from drowning?

Updated: Jun 19, 2019
  • Author: G Patricia Cantwell, MD, FCCM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Parents who own pools or who take their children to pools are encouraged to learn CPR. At least one parent or caretaker should remain focused on children at all times, avoiding other activities that might disturb this concentration, such as using the phone and conversing with others.

Children should wear personal flotation devices in pool areas, but these do not eliminate the need for constant supervision. Air- or foam-filled swimming tools, such as "water wings," inner tubes, and "noodles" are not substitutes for Coast Guard–approved personal flotation devices (PFDs).

Children should be taught to swim, but these lessons should not provide parents with a false sense of security. A 2009 case-controlled study concluded that participation in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 80% reduction in the risk of drowning. [109]

However, as an astute Florida pediatrician pointed out in an associated letter, swimming programs exist in an unregulated industry and have different objectives, methods, and goals, and these are achieved to varying degrees. Parents should be aware of the qualifications, goals, and limitations of the swimming programs in which they enroll their children. [110]

Infant swimming or water-adjustment programs do not prevent submersion injuries and are potentially hazardous, providing parents with a false sense of security if they perceive their infant can swim.

The presence of lifeguards at public swimming venues is also a deterrent, but it is not foolproof. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data suggest that 19% of drowning deaths in children occurred in public pools with certified lifeguards present. Nevertheless, trained, professional lifeguards clearly have shown a positive effect on US drowning prevention, including deterring dangerous or risky behavior, determining bathers who appear to be in distress, and determining the presence of hazardous conditions.

The ability of lifeguards to aid in drowning prevention is influenced by a number of factors. Individuals often drown quickly and are unable to call attention to themselves when in distress. As such, overcrowding of pools, lakes, parks, and beaches, as well as assignment of additional distracting duties to the lifeguards, can decrease their effectiveness. [111]

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