In this hot, hot weather, most of us head to the beach or a swimming pool to cool off.
Australians spend a huge amount of time in or near the water, and with this lifestyle brings the increased risk of drowning, not just in children but in adults as well.
Drowning is the second cause of death amongst children under 15 in Australia, next to car accidents, and a startling 60% of these children will drown within less than 25 metres of their accompanying adult.
What Drowning Really Looks Like
Unfortunately, drowning is not typically like it is depicted on TV. The most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning at all. Natural instinct and body reflexes to trauma and panic mean that the usual splashing, waving and calling out associated with drowning are very often not present when someone is fighting for their last breath in the water.
Instinctive Drowning Response
Most children and adults will react to the suffocating nature of drowning with the Instinctive Drowning Response (IDR).
1. No Time to Speak
There is very little calling out or noise, as the person does not have enough time to exhale, inhale and call out when they finally get their mouth above the water. The respiratory system is designed to breathe first, then speak. When there isn’t enough time to do both, the body will place more importance on breathing.
2. Cannot Wave Their Arms
Drowning people cannot wave their arms, as they instinctively extend their arms out to the side and push down to try and propel their body up out of the water. If you’ve ever tried to wave your arm(s) up above your head whilst up to your neck in water, you’ll feel just how difficult it is. Combine this with the perceived or actual suffocation and panic of drowning, and raising your arm above your head would be almost impossible.
3. Remains Vertical in the Water
Thirdly, it has been proven that people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot physically stop and perform voluntary movements, like waving an arm, moving towards a rescuer or turning to float on their back. From beginning to end of the IDR, a drowning person remains vertical in the water and can only struggle for 20-60 seconds until the water consumes them.
Here are other deceptively quiet actions that are tell-tale signs that a person is drowning:
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Eyes unable to focus
- Eyes closed
- Hair covering forehead or eyes
- Not using legs, bobbing vertically in the water
- Hyperventilating or gasping
- Trying to swim in a particular direction but not getting anywhere
- Attempting a backfloat
- Legs ‘cycling’ under water
What to Do?
If you are close enough to the suspected drowning person, the best way to determine if they are OK is to ask them. If you are met with a vacant stare and no response, you need to take action. So many parents of drowned children claim they were shocked with how quiet the situation was that they expected splashing and screaming if their child was in trouble.
A general and important rule with kids — if they go quiet, get up and check.