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The Informed Parent

Dangers of Swimming Pools

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jul. 13, 2009


You were right there, on the deck, tending another child--but yet, your three-year-old is now gone. How could this have happened?

Statistically, it is estimated that 6000 to 8000 people in the United States die each year from drowning. This is the third most common cause of accidental deaths in the country for newborns to 44-year-olds. Since swimming pools are so prevalent in California, drowning is a leading cause of accidental death in children. Forty percent are children less that five years of age, with boys slightly outranking girls.

Fifteen-to-nineteen-year-old boys peak in the incidence of drowning due to a greater variety of aquatic environments. Alcohol is associated with an estimated forty-to-fifty percent of these. African-American children outrank Caucasian children, two-to-one in drownings.

Ninety percent of all drowning deaths occur within ten meters of safety, and eighty-to-ninety percent of children who drown in swimming pools do so with their parents nearby. Intoxication of adult supervisors contribute heavily to pediatric deaths.

Most residential pool accidents occur between 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., with, ironically , one or both parents supervising. Too often these parents were preoccupied with normal household chores at the time of the accident. One study shows that in 142 cases there was no report of even a splash, and the estimated time that the child was missing was less than five minutes.

Although swimming pools and natural bodies of water close to the home present the greatest risk, two new danger sites have been reported. Industrial five gallon buckets are a temptation to the toddler. His curiosity can easily lead to a mishap and he may find it difficult to disengage himself. Solar pool blankets are another potential risk. Although these blankets support the weight of toys, not so with little toddlers who venture out.

We must not forget hot tubs and spas. There have been reports of body parts becoming entrapped and hair being entangled. Much too often we hear of bathtub drownings

involving infants who were left in the care of their older siblings. Sadly, children with epilepsy have a greater risk of drowning in bathtubs than in pools, because they are often inadequately supervised.

Treatment for drowning accidents must be left in the hands of specialized physicians. But, of crucial importance is the early and rapid initiation of CPR, AT THE SITE. However long the victim remains under water and further delays in initiating CPR will obviously result in a poor outcome. Too often the caregiver will telephone for help and wait for emergency crews to arrive. Don’t delay! Begin CPR at the earliest possible moment.

Prevention of drowning can be altered two ways: better supervision, and more effective barriers. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has recommended that swimming pools be fenced in on all four sides. The house should not serve as one side of the barrier. Fencing should be at least five feet high, with a self-closing gate that is properly maintained. Pool covers and pool alarms have not been studied and cannot be considered effective options.

Pool barriers are no substitute for constant adult supervision. Statistics indicate that children do benefit from water safety programs and swimming lessons, yet these often lead parents to a false sense of security. Young children and infants are never “drown-proof”. Pool owners should be required to know CPR, and should have a telephone near the pool. Be alert. Be aware. Learn CPR. Take the lessons. The life you save may be one of your own!


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