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Uniontown Hospital Emergency Department offers water safety tips

Uniontown Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director, Dr. Surabhi Gaur

By Rachel Basinger


It’s summertime, and with the hot temperatures comes the need to cool off, and swimming pools fit the bill quite nicely.

However, the popular recreational backyard activity can also become dangerous when caretakers become distracted.

In the United States, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death and is the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 14.

Three children die every day as a result of drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and every day, 14 children survive a near drowning.

From 2005-14, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about 10 deaths per day. An additional 332 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.

Dr. Surabhi Gaur, medical director of the emergency room at Uniontown Hospital, said they have not seen any substantial drowning deaths this season, although there was one near drowning in late May/early June and one or two near-drowning patients last summer.

“If we do see them, it tends to be males in their 20s engaging in drugs or alcohol near a water source,” she said.

But that’s not to say that the mix of swimming pools and young children doesn’t present some safety concerns.

“I think people believe that when they are at large gathering involving a pool, whether it be a family picnic or graduation party, that if there are a ton of adults around, then the possibility of someone drowning is almost impossible,” said Gaur.

This is not the case. People become distracted easily, whether it’s through conversation or getting food.

“If you have a small child that plans to be in the pool, then you or your spouse have to have eyes on them at all times,” Gaur said. “It’s not that parents are necessarily neglectful in the pool. They just believe that someone will help if their child becomes distressed.”

When an adult or child is drowning, especially if they aren’t water advanced, there might not be any drastic shouting or struggle. It happens so quickly.

According to statistics provided by the nonprofit Stop Drowning Now, 70 percent of preschoolers who drown were in the care of one or both parents and 75 percent were out of sight for fewer than five minutes. Most preschoolers who drown do so in their family’s home pool, while about a third drown in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives.

Calling 9-1-1 and having a basic knowledge of CPR are the best lines of defense when it comes to helping a drowning victim.

“It is a tremendous advantage if individuals have a basic knowledge of CPR,” said Gaur. “If they can deliver rescue breaths or are able to start chest compressions that will make a big difference.”

If a person is underwater for more than five minutes, there is a huge spike in the likeliness of not surviving, because that’s just about how long a brain can go without breathing.

“If an individual doesn’t get basic life support within the first 10 minutes, or if an individual needs more than 25 minutes of CPR, these also majorly decrease the chances of survival,” Gaur said.

Another thing that people don’t normally think of is maintaining body temperature.

“They may think that if it’s warm outside, the individual is warm, but an individual’s body temperature can drop very quickly — especially if an individual has been submerged in a natural body of water, because the water temperature drops drastically just a few feet below the surface,” Gaur said.

Low body temperature can create cardiac problems to add to the mix.

Gaur said that there have been a fair amount of kids in the emergency room whose parents brought them in saying that they didn’t drown but fell into the water and had trouble getting out and came up sputtering.

“They’re concerned about possible delayed drowning or after-effects of water intake, but that is something that happens very infrequently and usually with individuals who already have a pre-existing condition such as severe asthma or cystic fibrosis.”

Less than 5 percent of all drownings are attributed to delayed drowning, she said.

“If you’re worried about your child in that situation, the best advice I can give is just watch them,” Gaur said. “If there are things that just don’t seem right, I think they will be able to tell fairly quickly.”

While there is no replacement for adult supervision — the only surefire way to prevent a drowning is to be 100 percent vigilant with kids around water — there are some products and options out there for parents who want to add another layer of protection.

Fences are required around pools in most areas, and there are a number of pool alarm systems that can be installed on doors leading from the house to the outside pool patio, or even on the fence door leading into the pool area. And there are also pool alarms that go inside the pool and measure disturbances by ripples in the water.

There are also safety devices that are worn by the child, or a pet, which would send a signal to a base unit centered near the pool and then sound an alarm.