Summer time is when the majority of drownings occur, and, unfortunately, drowning is not rare.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, it is the second most common cause of injury-related deaths in children between the ages of 1 and 4.
Various factors can increase the risk of drowning, and they include being a male younger than age 14, no supervision, a history of participating in risky behaviors, alcohol use and having a limited education.
The two most serious consequences of drowning are getting fluid into the lungs and cardiac arrest. Water in the lungs damages the lungs, preventing proper oxygen exchange. Resuscitation consists of getting oxygen into the lungs and chest compression to get the heart beating. A complication during resuscitation is regurgitation of the contents of the stomach into the person’s airway. This further obstructs breathing.
The chances of not surviving or having severe neurological involvement depend upon how long the individual has been submerged in the water.
There is a 90-percent chance that the person will survive or not have severe neurological complications if they are submerged for 5 minutes or less. Chances decrease the longer the person has been submerged.
The vast majority of drowning accidents are preventable. And most preventive measures are obvious. For example, all children should learn how to swim. Rip currents should be avoided because 85 percent of all beach drownings are due to them. Fences should surround all home pools –– it’s reported that they reduce the number of drownings 50 to 70 percent. And remember, just when you take your eye off your toddler is when he or she may get into serious trouble.
Should a person wait an hour after eating before going swimming? The answer is controversial. Some researchers believe it is not necessary to wait. Others are adamant that swimmers should wait before going into the water after eating. One theory is that a great deal of blood goes to the stomach to digest its contents. This results in less going to the limbs and brain.
A recent study supported the view of waiting after eating. Autopsy reports on people who drowned showed that 80 percent of them had food in their stomachs in contrast to only 41 percent who committed suicide by drowning.
However, I think it would be prudent to wait for at least a half an hour before jumping into the water to swim. So, enjoy your swim, but use common sense.
Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio in Massachusetts, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.