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Drowning Looks Different From What You Think

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Drowning Looks Different From What You Think

I am not going to sugarcoat this: approximately 750 children will drown this year, and of those 750, about half of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or guardian.

Children still run the risk of drowning, even if they are strong swimmers and the highest standards of safety are maintained at the pool, lake, or local beach. Children get cramps, get caught in rip currents, suffer exhaustion, or just panic, and a few hundred times a year, someone misses the telltale signs and the results are tragic.

Knowing what drowning looks like can, and will, make all the difference when a child (or adult even) is in jeopardy. First off, it doesn’t look anything like it does on TV or in the movies. No one is bobbing above the water waving frantically and calling out for help. Drowning is most often a quiet and subtle thing, with the victim going into an instinctive mode (called the Instinctive Drowning Response) that puts them bobbing up and down just at the surface of the water.

Here is what to look for, as described by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., to identify someone struggling not to drown:

• Head low in the water, mouth at water level
• Head tilted back with mouth open
• Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
• Eyes closed
• Hair over forehead or eyes
• Not using legs—vertical
• Hyperventilating or gasping
• Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
• Trying to roll over on the back
• Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

As it is said in the article that first caught my attention on the subject, sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. (Click on the next page to view a video of what happens in an actual drowning.) The best thing to do is simple; ask them if they are OK. If you get no response, it is best to act, or find someone immediately to effectively address the situation and save the person in danger.

Please be safe, aware, and always helpful when you are able. Such tragedies can be averted.

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Read more: Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Community Service, Do Good, Family, Make a Difference, Outdoor Activities, Parenting at the Crossroads, Safety, , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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4:33AM PDT on Aug 14, 2013

I did not know.. Thank you.

2:39PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

Thanks for posting.

1:14PM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

Thanks for the article.

8:43AM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

Very good article - I did not know this before ,and am very glad I do know it now.

8:16AM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

Sound info thanku

7:31AM PDT on Jun 23, 2013


6:23AM PDT on Jun 22, 2013


4:41PM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

good info especially with some many kids getting out of school and hitting the water.

9:46AM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

I have witnessed three people drowning in my life (all three were thankfully saved in time or resuscitated) and people knowing the signs is what saved each of them. Good post!

9:32PM PDT on Jun 19, 2013

Hopefully the lifeguards know what to look for when they have crowds in a pool or beach.

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