The reality of drowning

By • Published: October 7th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Picture a person drowning. Do you see thrashing arms? Lots of splashing? Muddled cries for help?

Think again. That might be what drowning looks like when an actor portrays it on TV, but it’s a far cry from reality. And experts say this common misperception could cost some people their lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about ten people die from drowning every day.

So what really happens when someone starts to drown? First, it’s an almost entirely silent process. A person who is actually drowning won’t be able to cry for help because we are hard-wired to breathe first and talk later.

Typically, a drowning person bobs in the water but cannot stay above for long enough stretches to properly exhale and inhale. Instinct also pushes us not to flail our arms to signal for help but to try to push down on the water in order to get out and breathe. It’s also impossible for someone who is drowning to reach for a rescue ring or swim to a lifeguard.

All in all, it can take a minute or less for a drowning person to sink into the water. That’s why recognizing drowning quickly is crucial to saving lives.

And not all drowning happens when people are swimming, either. Drowning can happen anywhere, even in the bathtub. Most babies who drown do so after being left unattended in the bathtub. Unsecured pools pose the biggest risk for toddlers.

To reduce the risk, always swim with other people, and wear a life vest when boating or water skiing. To protect children, teach them to swim and put up a gate around backyard pools. And never leave babies unattended near water.

Vigilance and a few extra steps can keep everyone safe, whether it’s tub time or a day at the beach.