According to the Centers for Disease Control, about ten people die every day from unintentional drowning. Children under four have the highest drowning rates, but teens and adults who can't swim, don't wear a life jacket or who are drinking alcohol are all at high risk.
Unlike what's commonly depicted in movies, drowning is actually a silent struggle and a very quick killer. In many cases, another swimmer is close by or someone may even be watching, completely unaware of what's happening until the victim slips underneath the surface.
The screaming and thrashing on TV is actually physiologically impossible. If a swimmer can barely breathe, they cannot call for help.
The body kicks into what's called the "Instinctive Drowning Response," and all efforts go towards getting oxygen, which explains why drowning is usually seen and not heard.
Gasping for air, the victims head usually tilts back. Instead of waving for aid, the swimmers arms typically flail out to the sides and make the motion of pressing down on the water in an effort to boost their head above the surface.
As they fatigue, the swimmer may be upright but no longer kicking, and they make little headway in getting to a nearby ledge or shore. Drowning victims have often been seen "climbing an invisible ladder," a grasping motion and desperate effort to latch onto something.
At this point, most swimmers only last for another 20 to 60 seconds before submerging.
In a busy pool, lake or beach it can be difficult deciding whether or not someone is genuinely in trouble.
When in doubt, ask them: "Are you OK!?" If they are able to give a full answer, they're probably alright as they are getting oxygen. But, if the swimmer says nothing and just stares, you only have a few seconds to get them out.
Supervision is key to drowning prevention. A CPR-trained parent, lifeguard or buddy should always be near the swimmers.
Additionally, anyone who is not a strong swimmer should not rely on air-filled or foam toys to help them stay afloat. Anything other than a life jacket is not designed to keep swimmers safe.
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