Expert: Water safety a year-long concern

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


Water safety is not just a summer concern; it?s a year-long one. Staying safe in and out of the water begins with knowing the different ways drowning can occur and affect the body.

Lacey Harlan-Ralls, Emergency Department director at the Henry County Health Center (HCHC) says the sensation of drowning occurs when water comes into contact with the larynx. The throat closes to keep the larynx protected from the water, which results in involuntary breath holding which then blocks the pathway of oxygen to the brain.

Drowning can occur in a matter of seconds and is most common in children. Dr. Frederick Frank, a family medicine doctor at the HCHC says that drowning is the number one cause of death for toddlers.

?It can happen so quickly,? he says. ?People who are watching their kids can get distracted and a lot of it is kids can get away from you,? he says.

?I think the biggest thing for water safety is adult supervision,? Harlan-Ralls agrees.

Dr. Frank suggests only swimming where lifeguards are present and learn how to swim early on. He says swimming may seem like a skill only taught to children but it?s essential for adults to know how to as well. ?You never know where you might end up,? he says. ?You might have to go in after your kid.?

Recognizing drowning is not as easy as it may seen. Victor Miller has been a lifeguard at the Washington Community pool for four years and says recognizing the symptoms right away is essential for safety.

?They?re either yelling or they can?t yell anymore, thrashing, holding onto other people trying to stay up and when their head starts to fall under,? he says. He said people who are unnaturally calm are also an immediate reason to jump in because they might be in a state of unconsciousness.

Dr. Frank said another reason one might risk drowning is due to improper flotation devices. Miller said children are required to pass a swim test before they are allowed to swim in the deep-end of the pool, use the diving boards or slides, where floaties are prohibited. The pool provides devices for kids if they do not provide their own.

Naturally, drowning increases in summer months because there is more access to pools. ?Everybody?s out having fun and we go out as families or in groups and one child runs this way and another child goes that way,? she says. However, Harlan-Ralls warns that drowning can occur in bathtubs or even small buckets of water. She says that having grips on the floors of bathtubs are just as important as having flotation devices in pools because it?s an added layer of protection.

She says that if someone does go under, they should be immediately removed from the water and laid down on their back. If a head injury is suspected, try to move the body as little as possible to avoid further injury.

Because drowning can occur in a matter of seconds, all experts agree that acting fast is the safest way to handle the situation. Dr. Frank says to look for exhaustion in kids and encourages parents to know when their children are too tired to swim. Exhaustion can play a factor in drowning, in both children and adults, because the body is too tired to swim any longer.

Harlan-Ralls says this could be due to extensive time in the water, lack of hydration and depletion of hydration from laying in the sun. She encourages everyone to take frequent breaks to rehydrate for safety.

When rehydrating, they both warn to watch water intake for delayed drowning. This can occur when water enters the lungs and causes respiratory complications up to seven hours later. ?Those are the ones that people need to watch closely for,? he says. The symptoms are hard to recognize because the individual may seem fine, but the infection could last for up to seven hours. He says the signs can sometimes be mistaken for exhaustion but are much more serious.

Water safety should begin with children but all experts agree it is a lifelong mind-set people need to keep. Hydrating, knowing how to safely navigate the water and recognizing signs of drowning are only a few steps in saving a life.