AAP revises drowning prevention guidelines

Multiple layers of protection should be used to prevent drowning

Kimberly Ruscher, MD

May 28, 2019

Vancouver, WA – Nationwide, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury related deaths among children ages 5 to 19 years old. In 2017 alone, nearly 1,000 children died from drowning and 8,700 visited a hospital emergency room because of a drowning event.

To bring attention to this critical public safety issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its recommendations to prevent drowning in children.

At the top of the list is some simple advice for parents that packs a lot of punch: Always pay attention.

“No one expects their child to drown,” said Kimberly Ruscher, MD, a PeaceHealth pediatric surgeon. “It happens when people aren’t paying attention. It only takes a few minutes for an infant or toddler to get into trouble.”

AAP offers the following recommendations:

  • Parents and caregivers should never leave children alone or in the care of another child while in or near bathtubs, pools, spas or other open water.
  • Adults should empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use.
  • Do not leave young children alone in the bathroom. Toilet locks can prevent drowning of toddlers.
  • When infants or toddlers are in or around the water, a supervising adult with swimming skills should be within an arm’s length, providing constant “touch supervision.”
  • Even with older children and better swimmers, the supervising adult should focus on the child and not be engaged with other distracting activities.

Knowing how to swim doesn’t guarantee safety. Multiple layers of protection should be used to prevent drowning, because it is unlikely that any single strategy will prevent drowning deaths and injuries.

“Swim lessons are not enough; just because a child knows how to swim, it doesn’t mean they are competent to handle any kind of water-related situation,” Dr. Ruscher said. “Once they’ve learned basic swim skills, they should also learn to wear a life jacket, how to recognize if someone is in distress, how to dial 9-1-1, and — when old enough — how to perform CPR.”

This is an approach that the AAP refers to as the “drowning chain of survival.”

The chain begins with taking preventative steps like those listed above and continues with knowing the signs that indicate a person could be drowning.

“They may not be waving their arms. Pay close attention. Watch their facial expressions and body movements,” Dr. Ruscher said. “If someone looks like they are in distress, provide them with a flotation device, remove the person from the water — if it is safe to do so — and provide care as needed.”

Dr. Ruscher encourages people of all ages to keep these drowning prevention tips in mind all-year-round.

“No one expects to drown, but you should plan your day like you could,” she said.

Read the AAP’s revised drowning prevention guidelines.

Check out some additional information on water safety.

About PeaceHealth: PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver, Wash., is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. PeaceHealth has approximately 16,000 caregivers, a group practice with more than 1,200 providers and 10 medical centers serving both urban and rural communities throughout the Northwest. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. The Sisters shared expertise and transferred wisdom from one medical center to another, always finding the best way to serve the unmet need for healthcare in their communities. Today, PeaceHealth is the legacy of the founding Sisters and continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its Mission.

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