Emergency-medicine Physician Offers Water-safety Tips

PALMER — As temperatures rise, many will be looking for fun ways to cool off and stay active. Water activities like swimming, diving, canoeing, boating, and waterskiing offer relief during these hot summer months.

It’s important to keep safety at front of mind during recreational water activities. Dr. Joe Sills, chief of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Wing Hospital, reminds families to stay at arm’s length to ensure safety when a child is near or in water.

“Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water, especially to unsupervised children,” Sills said. “It happens in lakes and oceans, pools, bathtubs, and even a bucket of water. The best way to prevent drowning is through the touch-supervision technique, which means being within an arm’s length of the child at all times, able to reach them and pull them from the water immediately.

“In the time it takes to answer the phone, less than two minutes, that child can lose consciousness,” he added. “In the time it takes to sign for a package at your front door, four to six minutes, a child submerged in the bathtub or pool can sustain permanent brain damage.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year in the U.S., an estimated 4,000 fatal, unintentional drownings occur, an average of 11 drownings per day. More children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause of death, and for children ages 5-14, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional-injury death after motor-vehicle crashes.

“Remember also that inflatable aids such as water wings and tubes are not substitutes for adult supervision and that swimming lessons are an important step, but they do not make a child drown-proof,” Sills said. “Children must be taught about the importance of always being with an adult and always swimming with a buddy.

“Young people who drown are often victims of their own misjudgment of their swimming ability,” he noted. “They may view a river or a lake as a tempting means of cooling off in a hot spell but fail to appreciate the harmful effects that the cold water can have on stamina and strength.”

Many adults and children report that they can’t swim or that they are weak swimmers. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children and young adults. Here are some other general water-safety tips:

• Never swim alone.

• Make sure you are ready to respond in case of an emergency. Have an emergency phone near the body of water and learn how to perform CPR.

• Have a pool fence and keep toys away from the pool, as toys can attract young children into the pool.

• Check the water temperature before swimming. Cold water can tax the body and make it difficult to swim well.

• Do not swim if you have been drinking or if you have taken medication that alters your medical status.

• Make sure pool-cleaning equipment, such as brushes and skimmers on long poles, don’t come in contact with power lines.

• Poolgoers should take precautions against E. coli. Swimming pools can be a breeding ground for dangerous micro-organisms. Chlorine helps maintain a clean and safe pool.

• Toddlers should wear proper swim diapers designed to contain urine and feces.

• Empty all buckets, containers, and wading pools immediately after use. Store them upside-down and out of children’s reach.

• Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating.