STUMP » Articles » 2023 Summer Warning: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning » 29 May 2023, 20:15

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2023 Summer Warning: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning  


29 May 2023, 20:15

Yes, I wrote about it last year. I’m writing about it this year. It’s a thing I do.

Memorial Day is often seen as the beginning of “summer”, even if it’s not really the “true” beginning of the season… and it’s the start of when people go to pools, beaches, and in general go out on the water.

And it’s when drowning deaths increase.

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning: the core concept

What “drowning doesn’t look like drowning” means is that what people think drowning looks like, mainly from movies and TV shows, is not what drowning looks like at all.

Here is a video version of the explanation:

And here is the article from Mario Vittone in 2013: Drowning doesn’t look like drowning:

Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect.

The Instinctive Drowning Response—so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the No. 2 cause of accidental death in children, ages 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents)—of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. According to the CDC, in 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch the child do it, having no idea it is happening.

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

Obviously, trained lifeguards should know about these signs, but it doesn’t hurt for parents to know about this. Children (and drunk adults) are the most susceptible to dying by drowning.

Drowning deaths peak in July

The ICD-10 codes for drowning deaths are W65-W74 — Accidental drowning and submersion.

As you can see, there is a high amount of seasonality to drowning deaths in America — far more than most of the causes of death we look at. July is when the peak occurs… year after year.

Though, June also has a lot of drowning deaths.

Just be careful.

Drowning is most dangerous for toddlers

I keep mentioning this, but let me push this in your face again.

The 2022 drowning rates don’t include November and December deaths (for reasons), but given drowning seasonality, it doesn’t have a huge impact.

But notice the shape of the death rate trend — by age grouping, ages 1-4 years old have the highest risk for drowning deaths.

Some of that is drowning due to pools/open water… but some of that is to bathtubs. Toddlers are high-risk creatures. So are teens, but for other causes of death.

I do find it interesting that drowning deaths level off during adulthood, but then start to increase in old age, which may indicate the inability to get out of a tub, for instance. Many drowning deaths are not in the ocean, but simply in domestic situations.

With that happy thought, let me go back to the original point: please be aware of the base risk of water.

It is fun (as I mention in one of the linked posts below, even though drowning risks freak me out, I know my kids love playing in the water, and I just deal.)

But one needs to be aware what drowning actually looks like, to prevent adverse outcomes.

Have a safe and fun summer!

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Apr 2022: Pools are more dangerous than Covid to small children — and “drowning in pools” is only a portion of the drowning threat to kids age 1-4. Many drown in bathtubs.

Aug 2022: Childhood Mortality Trends, 1999-2021 (provisional), Ages 1-17 Revisited: Teen Mortality Increased 30% 2019 to 2021 — drowning is a serious cause of death for children aged 1-12.

May 2022: Summer Season Warning: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning (Plus Drowning Mortality Trends)

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Spreadsheet can be found at substack post

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