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7 water-safety myths busted

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Summer is finally upon us and so is pool and boating season. Now is a perfect time to take a few minutes to debunk seven common swimming myths to help keep you and your family safer in the water.

Myth 1: "Drowning is noisy so I'll hear someone struggling."

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Unlike dramatic scenes in movies, a drowning child rarely screams, splashes or cries out for help. Even drowning adults may be so busy trying to breathe that they don't scream.

"Drowning is often a silent event because one of the causes of drowning, aspiration — or swallowing of liquid that goes to the lungs instead of the stomach — commonly takes place underwater, often following an unsuccessful attempt by the swimmer to hold his or her breath," says Dr. Ashanti Woods, attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center, Family Health Centers of Baltimore.

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Myth 2: "My child can swim so she doesn't need a life vest."

"Proficient swimmers drown usually due to misjudgment or underwater injury," says Wood. "What happens medically in the swimmer is a decrease in oxygen and increase in acid within the body." Wood explains that this increase in acid can lead to passing out under water.

The Red Cross reports drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of accidental death for children under 14, so adults need to take extraordinary precautions when it comes to children and the water.

Children as well as adults should wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket when boating. In fact, Wood advises all children wear life vests in the pool as well.

Myth 3: "My child is wearing 'water wings' so he'll be fine."

This is a common misconception according to a study by KidsHealth/The Nemours Foundation. While water flotation devices are a nice gesture to promote fun in the pool, proficient swimming skills, a Coast-Guard approved life jacket and constant adult supervision are the best methods to ensure water safety, says Wood.

"Water wings can give a false sense of security to a young child," he says. For one thing, these flotation devices, which are slid onto the child's arm, can fall off. For another, the water wings provide buoyancy for arms, but leave the child's trunk and lower extremities — the bulk of a body's weight — unsupported. Therefore, when a child is using water wings, close supervision is still needed, urges Wood.

Myth 4: "There are so many people around that if I'm not watching for a minute, I'm sure a lifeguard or someone will notice."

It takes seconds for a child to submerge. According to the Red Cross, 90 percent of drowning deaths occur within 30 feet of safety. They and other experts recommend actively supervising kids whenever around water — even when lifeguards are present.

"Distraction, lack of awareness, poor swimming skills, and underwater injury are causes of swimmers drowning even when people are present," says Wood.

If you feel you will be distracted while children are swimming, take turns being a watcher for short intervals, such as 15 minutes. Make a card labeled "Watcher" to physically pass to a friend when you need to tend to another child or make a phone call.

Myth 5: "An icy cocktail or frosty beer is harmless when boating."

Common sense tells us alcohol impairs judgment, balance and coordination and affects swimming and diving skills. Although boating is a popular activity in Maryland, many residents do not realize boats are classified as motor vehicles under the state's DUI laws. In other words, it is against the law to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol. Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is a factor in 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of emergency room visits for drowning, and about 1 in 5 reported boating deaths.

Myth 6: "You must wait 30 minutes after eating to go swimming."

This is a myth. Neither the Red Cross nor the American Academy of Pediatrics makes any mention of this requirement. So enjoy the pool snack bar and hop right back in the water. If you develop cramps, just get out of the water.

Myth 7: "Peeing in the pool doesn't matter because the chlorine gets rid of it."

While chlorine does a good job with bacteria, when it mixes with the uric acid in urine it produces a harmful chemical reaction. In fact this mixture is not good for your heart, lungs or central nervous system, according to a report in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. And chlorine can't do its job when it is mixed with urine. So educate your kids and remind them pee is for the potty not the pool.

A couple other words of advice: Experts agree all children should have swimming lessons as soon as they are interested in water, and should learn about water safety. Up your preparedness another step by taking a CPR certification class and keeping your certification current.

"Parents and teenagers should make a priority to learn CPR in the month of May every single year," Woods says. "Rapid response CPR saves lives — seconds count."

— Laura Strom, Tribune Brand Publishing

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