Drowning is a leading cause of death among children, including infants and toddlers.
Toddlers between one and four years of age most commonly drown in swimming pools.
Foresight is the best prevention for safety around water.
Fences, alarms, and supervision are very important to help keep your child safe.
Swimming lessons for you and your child offers another great safety measure.
And, make sure you know your water. Oceans, lakes and large open water sources offer the greatest dangers.
Deborah Mulligan, MD, shares great advice on what you can do to keep your children safe in the water.
RadioMD Presents: Healthy Children | Original Air Date: May 13, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Deborah Mulligan, MD
Hear it from the doctor with expert guests from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s Healthy Children. Now our favorite mom, Melanie Cole, MS.
MELANIE: Drowning is the leading cause of death among children including infants and toddlers and while many of these drownings occur in bathtubs and buckets and things you might just not even think possible, a lot of them happen in pools--even in public pools--but in backyard pools and in lakes and ponds for the teenagers and a little bit older children.
My guest is Dr. Debra Ann Mulligan, she is the chief medical officer for MDLive Care and she's also a pediatric emergency medicine doctor. I can't talk today, very well. Welcome to the show.
So, Dr. Mulligan drowning prevention, as I said, we have a lake house so we go up there and I just, it still freaks me out all the time. So, start with our little guys and move on up to drowning prevention throughout the ages.
Dr. DEBRA: Perfect, thank you for doing that. Yes, I mean, I've had personal friends who are physicians who lost their children to drowning in backyard pools and the point of telling you that is that no one is immune to that tragic incident but we can absolutely with forethought prevent that kind of tragedy. Along the years, in 1800's there were public baths. as you point out, our back yards are havens for swimming pools and we all love to quench ourselves in those cool soothing waters from you children on out to seniors and although the death rate for drowning in the U.S. is still highest among children one to four when we can still make efforts to prevent that. What does that mean? It means that you always have barriers in place and what would those barriers be? That would mean putting alarms on the windows and doors that go out to the back yard pool because it's the back yard pool where the young children are going to be at greatest risk for drowning and from there you're going to put up perhaps a pool fence, if you don't have the alarms that go off and stay alarming on the doors and windows. You can put up a four-sided pool fence around the pool to slow them down from getting to the pool. Now remember, especially little boy toddlers, they'll climb over anything and they'll figure a way to get over the fence. So, remember these barriers are just that, barriers to slow the kids down, giving you time to find them before there is a mishap. The other would be to get bystander CPR training so that if, God forbid, something did happen to your child you're not afraid to begin first aid CPR while you're waiting for help to arrive. During parties, especially as we're coming up to Memorial Day weekend, make sure that some adult has some kind of tag that they can put around their neck that can identify themselves as the responsible adult for the children in the pool and then that adult, while they're wearing that tag around their neck or some kind of identifying tag on their person, should be within arm’s reach of the kids and really watch them at play in the pool. No drinking alcohol, no getting into long conversations. Make sure that you are really watching the kids during that time of activity because when we have lots of children in the pool sometimes things can happen if an adult is not paying close attention. So again, having lots barriers is a way to slow down the tragedy from happening and being able to get to the kids in the nick of time should that arise and then lastly, of course, swimming lessons. Swimming lessons are something incredibly important for children at all ages. There was a time when the Academy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, was not fully supportive of water safety lessons for kids under the age of two but now as the decades have passed and we have more science and we can see that children can learn to be water safe although, once again, you can't solely rely on the swimming lessons for young, young kids but it is important to start water safety lessons or swim lessons as soon as you think your child's ready to learn.
MELANIE: Great advice now do we… So, you don't want us looking away or getting confident if there's a pool. I know my son fell into a little backyard pool and I had only just turned my head away for one second and it was almost in slow motion and I ran over and I was lucky. I was one of the lucky ones because I was right there and I didn't walk into the kitchen for a second because that's what people do. You think you can walk away for just a second and it happens in the blink of an eye and it's not this loud screaming thing everybody thinks, right? It's a silent kind of just happens.
DR. DEBRA: Silent drowning. Exactly. Exactly.
MELANIE: It's a silent thing. Now, if we use things like life jackets and stuff, do we feel more confident? Is there anything you want to tell us about lakes and ponds and kids swimming at the beach and those kinds of things?
DR. DEBRA: Yes, thank you. So, when we were talking about the zero to four age group, it's the backyard pool. Oh and by the way, you're right. No inflatable swimming aids. Floaties are not life vests so do not believe that you have any sense of security using a floatie. They're not a life jacket. You know, some of these kids as they get older, they start moving around and there's a vulnerable population that we have to mention and that is African American children. Seventy percent of African American children do not know how to swim and so once they get, we start seeing higher incidents of drownings when we get out of the 0 to 4 age group in the African American population because those kids are now moving around to locations like rivers and streams and lakes and quarries where they can enjoy the water as well but when you don't know how to swim, of course, that's when you get in to some trouble. So, we want to make sure that our listening parents are certain to get all the children swimming lessons for the next phase of drowning prevention and that is the young kids moving around swimming in open waters. So, in open waters such as boats you want to be able wear the life jackets. You want to make sure that the kids are not drinking. Teenagers tend to try to sneak some alcohol here and there when they're at the beach or the boats. We want no alcohol or drugs involved in any way whatsoever. Again, swimming lessons are still important. If you're on the beach you want to make sure you're looking at the flags on the life guard stations so that if they're any riptides, you know the colors of the flags and you're sure to avoid swimming in the ocean if there's a riptide happening that day. So, there is, there's some very different kind of aspects to look at as the kids are getting more mobile and getting around without the adult supervision that they might have in the back yard.
MELANIE: Absolutely and it's something to teach your kids to be aware of the conditions that they're in and I just learned recently on a show, one of the hospital shows, that diving is just, unless you're in a sanctioned diving program, diving is just never acceptable. It's the number one cause of quadriplegia in boys, in teenage boys, so no diving even off the beach. I was surprised he told me that. Big cause of drowning, they dive into the waves and hit the ground.
DR. DEBRA: Right. Right.
MELANIE: So, it was it was just something I didn't even, really, you don’t always think about all these things. So, in just the last minute and half here best advice on drowning prevention, the things you would tell any parent that comes to you and asks you these questions.
DR. DEBRA: Yes. It breaks our heart to receive children from the paramedics where it's too late to save the life of an otherwise healthy, happy child in a needless death situation from drowning. So, what we want them to do in the back yard pool, never ever leave your children alone near the pool or spa, even, as you say, for a moment. When the children are young make, sure that someone in your family knows that first aid CPR. Install a fence, a pool fence, four feet high, four-sided pool fence around your pool. Make sure that it has a self-latching gate. Make sure that you have equipment nearby, if for some reason that you're going to need to use it, you're going to be very thankful that you did and keep a telephone near the pool so you're not tempted to go inside to answer the phone for any reason whatsoever. Floaties are not life jackets so on the young kids we would say that that's the most important thing and swimming lessons. The boating safety again, wearing a life jacket, no alcohol or drugs involved in your experience that day. On the beach make sure that you know the safety rules and the colors of the flags for riptides. If you see a storm moving in, make sure that you move towards high ground and safety away from the storm, which can happen in certain places, like Florida or up in the lakes where you are and I think that would probably cover it.
MELANIE: Great information, really great information. Parents listening, share this show with your friends. Play it again. Put it on Facebook because as the summer approaches, these are the kinds of things that pediatric emergency medicine doctors like Dr. Debra Mulligan see and don't want to see. So, share these shows and maybe we can all prevent drowning.
Listening to Healthy Children on RadioMD. Thanks for listening and stay well.