Every parent should approach "swimming season" with great care - drowning is a very real threat and young children are most at risk.
Children often slip away unnoticed and are later found in the water. Quite often it's too late to save the child's life - a lack of oxygen to the heart and brain could be fatal. And, even if a child survives, permanent damage may result. It takes only four minutes without oxygen for irreversible brain damage to occur. What's more, inhaling fluid can be accompanied by damage to the respiratory system and "late drowning" may result. For every child who drowns, five are left with permanent brain damage as a result of the prolonged lack of oxygen.
Every year, a great many children drown all over the world. Unfortunately, some of the following myths and misconceptions only make matters worse:
Myth #1: You'll hear if your child is in trouble.
The truth is that you won't necessarily hear splashing, shouting and/or struggling. Young children simply don't know how to react when they get into trouble in the water, or how to get out.
Older children may also be unable to call for help if they're struggling for breath. If their strokes become erratic and jerky or stop entirely, or if their body sinks so that only their head shows above the water, you can take it that they're in trouble.
Myth #2: I don't have a swimming pool, so I don't have to be concerned.
Children certainly don't only drown in deep swimming pools or in the sea. A few hundred millimetres of water can be fatal to a small child.
Parents and child minders need to be aware of the water hazards in and around the home. This includes fish ponds, water features, toilets, pets' water bowls, dams, streams and rivers, and open drains.
Myth #3: Once my child can swim, there's no risk of drowning.
Younger children (especially one to three-year-olds) are most at risk of drowning. Because of the disproportionate weight of their heads, toddlers can easily topple over, and find it difficult to lift their heads to breathe.
Adult supervision is always needed if a child is near water - no matter what their age. An older child might be a good swimmer, but dangerous situations are always a factor: swimming in the sea, in a river, in a lake or in murky waters is risky, so always keep an eye out and make sure the child is wearing a life vest if there's any risk.
Myth #4: I don't have to worry about my child if there's supervision.
Unfortunately, adult supervision isn't enough. Your child must be taught how to swim properly as early as possible, and there should always be other protective measures in place.
- Being vigilant when children are around water.
- Keeping pool gates locked, or covering the pool with a certified pool cover.
- Ensuring gates and nets are in a good condition and free from damage or holes.
- Employing electronic splash sensors that trigger an alarm when a splash is detected.
- Taking a basic course in first aid and CPR - it can make a dramatic difference to the outcome if the skills are applied in time.
- In any emergency situation, immediately contacting the correct emergency number for the relevant authority.
- Memorising the number for emergency services in your area and keeping the number saved in your mobile phone or close to your landline telephone.
Recognising an emergency
It may not always be obvious that a child or another swimmer is in trouble. The following signs indicate that you need to get help:
- If, once they're on land, the child or adult's breathing is laboured, or if they're unable to control their coughing.
- If their skin colour also has a blue tinge. The skin may be pale and cool.
- If they vomit, or have a swollen stomach.
- If they appear to be stunned or losing consciousness and their pulse is very rapid, weak or slow.
- If the child/adult isn't breathing and unconscious, or you suspect a spinal injury.
What you can do to help
- The most important consideration is safety - never try to rescue someone if it will endanger your life. Rather call for help.
- If a spinal injury is suspected and CPR isn't required, the child shouldn't be moved.
- Keep them lying face up until help arrives.
- If the child has to be moved, slide a board under their head, back and buttocks, taking care to keep the head and neck aligned.
- If the child isn't breathing, but has a pulse, perform mouth-to-mouth breathing immediately. Don't waste time by trying to drain swallowed water.
- If the child starts breathing again, he is likely to vomit. Place him on his side with his head lower than his torso to clear the airways.
- If the child has a spinal injury, take care to keep his head and neck in alignment at all times.
- If there's no pulse, place the child on a hard surface and do CPR, taking care not to extend the head backwards.
- Place the child in the recovery position if there are no spinal injuries.
- Keep them warm and treat for hypothermia if necessary.
- Call a doctor if a child almost drowned - even if they've recovered completely.
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