Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Drowning Really Looks Like

I can't tell you how many stories I have read already this Summer where young children and even adults have drowned.  Just a few weeks ago a 20 year old young man lost his life here in my hometown and just recently I saw where several children have drowned in different situations.  Just last year, a friend of ours  lost his only child to a drowning accident and it still sends chills down my spine today just thinking about it. Last year I received an email with some really valuable information from Dr. Pia on what drowning really looks like and I thought it was a good time to share. It's not like what we see on tv with arms flailing and someone screaming for help. In an article in the Coast Guard's On Scene Magazine, Dr. Pia describes the instinctive drowning response as outlined below.  You can also watch this informative video that actually shows someone drowning so you will know what to look for. 
* Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
* Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

* Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

* Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

* From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs. 

This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:

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.
And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

Be safe this Summer and if you are swimming with your children, PLEASE keep them within arms length from you at all times. Lifeguards aren't babysitters. They are lifesavers. It's your responsibility to watch your children at all times!!!!


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I bet you save a life if enough people read it. It is so true that it only takes a very short period of time. Mom's can't use the lifeguard as a babysitter any more than using a kiddy pool for a babysitter. It isn't always a noise they make. They need to have their eyes on them and in a pool or other large amount of water they need to be within grabbing reach. Even older children need to be watched so carefully. Sorry to be strong winded. I appreciate your post.
    Gladys Parker

  2. Thanks you so much for this post. Mostly people dont realize how a drowning victim actually looks in the water . They think its like it shows on TV. I had a near drowning experience and they didnt realized it at first until they finally pulled me out. So be watchful even when they are close to you .


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