By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
Drowning is second only to accidental injuries when it comes to causes of death for children younger than 14. Drowning can happen very quickly, in some cases, in less than two minutes after a person’s head goes under water. Drowning occurs when a person gets too much water in their lungs, and when that happens, the lungs can’t get enough oxygen to the brain or the rest of the body.
Many drownings occur when children accidentally fall into a swimming pool, but they can happen anywhere there is water.
Point out depth markers on swimming pools to your child. Children may think the water they’re about to jump into is deeper than it actually is, and if they jump or dive in, they can hit the bottom and seriously injure themselves. You should also check the water temperature because cold water can send the body into shock and make blood pressure and heart rate increase and your child might open her mouth in the water and breathe some in. Cold water also slows down your muscles, which makes it hard to swim.
Here are some guidelines to make sure your child is safe near the pool:
• Tell your child never to enter a pool if an adult is not present, even if it is in your yard. Never leave your young child in or near a pool alone.
• Make sure your child knows that fences are around pools for a reason and that he should never enter the gated area if there isn’t an adult with him. If you own a pool at home, fences should completely separate the pool from your house and should be 4 feet high and surround the pool. Gates on the fence should be self-closing, self-latching and not easily opened by a child.
• Go over the pool rules with your child and make sure she obeys them.
• Stay within arm’s reach of your child so that you can grab him quickly if necessary.
• Tell your older child to swim with a friend.
• If you put a flotation device on your child who is learning to swim, make sure it’s U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Floaties, air mattresses, inner tubes and beach balls are toys, not life-saving devices.
• Tell your child to walk in the pool area. Make sure that she knows that running isn’t allowed near the pool.
• To prevent choking hazards while swimming, make sure your child never eats or chews gum while in the water.
• The pool area should be equipped with a telephone, a “shepherd’s hook” and a life preserver.
• Learn CPR.
• Remove all toys from the pool when you’re done swimming so your young child isn’t tempted to reach for them.
• Teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe in water.
• Contact the local Red Cross or community center to find out about swimming lessons and CPR training.
• Make sure your child wears waterproof sunscreen while swimming.
• Make sure pool areas are well lit if swimming at night.
• Stop swimming as soon as you see or hear a storm approaching.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children’s Hospital and Keith Bly is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UTMB Children’s Emergency Room. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.