Drowning: How to prevent it this silly season


The sun is shining, just about everyone's on holiday and the atmosphere seems to be filled with festive cheer. But while we all know the December holidays to be all fun and games as it certainly is the most wonderful time of the year in sunny South Africa, it's also silly season. And unfortunately that means that we also have to be extra vigilant, particularly on busy roads and just about any activities involving water.

With reports coming in detailing tragic fatalities as a result of drowning, we thought we'd explain exactly what drowning is as well as how and what you can do to prevent it.

What is drowning?

According to Health24, the term "drowning" is used when a person dies due to a lack of oxygen to the heart and brain. "Near drowning" is when a person has survived after having suffocated in water or another fluid.

Near drowning damages the respiratory system and can cause a build up of fluid in the lungs after recovery. This could lead to pneumonia or even a fatal condition called "late drowning".

Sadly hundreds of South Africans are victims of drowning each year.

Children (especially 1-3 year-olds) are most at risk, and supervision is therefore always needed if your child is near water. Even five centimetres of water could pose a risk for a small child. Because of the disproportionate weight of their heads, toddlers can easily topple over and find it difficult to lift their heads to breathe.

It may not always be obvious that your child is in trouble as she may be struggling to breathe and unable to call for help. Suspect trouble if her strokes become erratic and jerky or stop. Or if the body sinks so that only the head shows above the water.

Spinal injuries are common in diving accidents and should always be suspected.

Signs of drowning

  • Absent, rapid or laboured breathing
  • Coughing
  • Cyanosis (bluish colour)
  • Vomiting
  • Pale, cool skin
  • Decreased level of consciousness
  • Rapid, weak, slow or absent pulse
  • Swollen stomach

Get help immediately if:

  • Your child is not breathing
  • Your child is unconscious
  • You suspect a spinal injury

Home treatment

  • The first principle is safety. Never try to rescue your child if it will endanger your life. Rather call for help.
  • If you suspect a spinal injury and CPR is not required, don't move her to land. Keep her lying face up until help arrives. The water will immobilise the spine. If she has to be moved, slide a board under her head, back and buttocks, taking care to keep the head and neck in alignment.
  • If she is not breathing but has a pulse, perform mouth-to-mouth breathing immediately. Don't waste time by trying to drain swallowed water. If she starts breathing again, she is likely to vomit. Place her on her side with her head lower than her torso to clear the airway. If she has a spinal injury, take care to keep the head and neck in alignment at all times.
  • If she has no pulse, place her on a hard surface and do CPR taking care not to extend the head backwards.
  • Place her in the recovery position if there are no spinal injuries.
  • Keep her warm and treat for hypothermia if necessary.

Call a doctor if someone has nearly drowned even if he has recovered completely.

Preventative measures

There are, of course, a few preventative measures you can take. Childsafe advises:

  • Never leave small children alone in the bath or near any open container with liquid in it, including the bath and toilet.
  • Children should learn to swim as young as possible and never alone. If your child can’t swim keep them away from places where they can drown.
  • Swimming aids like tubes and inflatable wings should not be relied on for protection.
  • Don’t let your children play near water.
  • Never let your kids jump into unknown water or when there are people in the way.
  • Swimming pools must be properly fenced and locked.
  • Invest in a professional safety net over your pool - it gives the best protection
  • Always know where your child is.
  • Empty paddling pools when they're not being used.
  • Look into swimming pool alarms.
  • Always supervise your child’s swimming in the ocean.
  • A lilo or other floating toy may be swept away in the tide with your child on it. Don't rely on them either.
  • When going on a boat or fishing from the rocks always wear a lifejacket.

Read more about drowning and how you can prevent it here:

What water safety precautions do you make sure you take before little the kids play in the water? Tell us by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments.

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