Swim & Water Safety

BY LINDA STEVENSON, PHD, RN, FNP-C, PEDIAQ SENIOR NURSE PRACTITIONER
 

Summer and swimming go hand in hand. Going for a dip is a fun treat in the Texas heat! 

The serious side of lakes, rivers and pools is that drowning is the #1 cause of death for children age 1 to 4. So, lets talk about what to do to change this. Babies can be introduced to water around 6 months of age. There are water safety classes for very young children to learn to float and tread water and not to panic around water. By 3 years of age children should be in swimming lessons. All children should learn how to tread water and float. But, despite swimming and water safety, a good rule is that anyone under 5 years has to wear a life jacket when playing around or in the pool.  Remember that water wings, noodles and inner tubes are fun toys but they will not prevent drowning. The most important part of drowning prevention is for kids to have constant supervision. You cannot depend on lifeguards at public pools and waterparks. Kids in the water should always have an adult watching them. If a child is missing always check the pool first.

What about dry drowning sometimes called secondary drowning? They are frequent news items lately and although very scary, they are rare and occur in only 1 to 2 percent of all drowning incidents. In dry drowning, a child inhales a small amount of water thru the nose or mouth causing a spasm in their airway – this causes it to close up. The water has not reached the lungs. In secondary drowning, a little water gets into the lungs causing inflammation and swelling. This decreases the body’s ability to take in adequate oxygen.  

How will your child behave when this happens? Coming out of the water after getting water inhaled, your child may cough a little then seem to be fine. Sometimes hours later they will have increased coughing, seem to be working hard at breathing, nostrils flaring or the skin between the ribs pulling in with each breath. They may not cough, but one minute they are actively playing and then they are extremely fatigued. They may feel “sick” or unsteady on their feet or have vomiting with persistent coughing. What do you do? Call your doctor or head to the ER.

And then, there is always the issue of pool hygiene.  Young infants and children that are not potty-trained should wear waterproof diapers that are changed frequently. Have timed bathroom breaks for the older kids where everyone gets out of the water – this teaches good habits.

There is one other area that is of concern. I’m sure we can all remember playing games to see who could hold their breath and stay under water the longest when we were kids. And many team swimmers have experienced swim training drills where you had to purposely hyperventilate for up to 10 breaths then hold your breath for extended periods while swimming under water to improve lung capacity. We now know these behaviors can have serious consequences. So what happens?  Kids take several rapid deep breaths and then hold the last one before jumping or diving into the water. The problem is that they have breathed out a large portion of carbon dioxide, the gas that makes you want to breathe. When underwater the carbon dioxide levels fail to rise quickly enough to signal the brain to breathe, oxygen levels fall and the child faints underwater and drowns.  These games are best not played at all. Most swim coaches know that this is not an acceptable way to increase lung capacity anymore.

With the right care for safety, swimming in the summer can be a fun family experience!