MemorialCare Health System Your Health: Water Safety
What can you do to be safe around water?
Drowning is a leading cause of death among children under five, claiming the lives of 500 young people every year. Nearly 3,000 other youngsters are treated in hospital emergency rooms as a result of near-drowning incidents, which can lead to permanent brain damage and life-long disability.
What can you do to protect your children from this fate? First, make sure they know how to swim—preferably learning from a qualified instructor in an accredited course. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends age four as a good time to start. But just because youngsters can do the backstroke or butterfly is no assurance they can’t drown. “Close adult supervision is the key to water safety for children,” says Gary Moreau, M.D., medical director of the emergency department and trauma center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach—the only such pediatric department in the area. “An adult who knows CPR should supervise young swimmers at all times, never taking their eyes off them or becoming distracted by other activities.”
For beach days, parents should make sure a lifeguard is stationed in the area where their child is swimming. And for safety’s sake, nonswimmers— and those learning to swim— should never use air mattresses, inner tubes or inflatable toys as life preservers. Instead, they should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when in or around the water.
Pools pose additional challenges for parents. Several layers of protection are necessary to keep children secure around pools. This includes four-sided fences with automatic latches and alarms that notify parents when children enter the pool area or water. But again, the most critical element for pool safety is constant supervision. “A child can drown in 90 seconds or less,” says Bob Castillo, M.D., a pediatrician at Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach. “That’s the time it takes a parent to answer the phone or grab a towel.”
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