Drownings: What happens and how to prevent it

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, August 8, 2017

By Savannah Morgan 


Many people look forward to summer for the chance to lounge around a pool or dive into a lake, but fun on the water can easily take a dark turn.

Just this summer, three people have drowned in High Rock Lake, two in Rowan County and one in Davidson County.

Even if you know how to swim, authorities say, take precautions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2005 to 2014, 3,536 people died as a result of unintentional drowning. About 20 percent of those victims were children ages 14 and younger. Drowning is the fifth-leading cause of unintentional death in the U.S.

Drownings and submersion injuries are usually caused when people overestimate their abilities, said Dr. John Bream, emergency department director at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

“Even strong swimmers overestimate themselves,” said Bream. “They swim too long, and the body just gives out.”

Eddie Cress, chief of the Rowan County Rescue Squad, recommends wearing a personal flotation device as a preventive measure. Life vests are the most effective devices; water wings, floats and pool noodles are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

“We have a rule here at the Rescue Squad: Wear a safety vest whenever you’re within 10 feet of water,” Cress said. “That rule has helped us out a lot because we deal with so much water.”

Someone who begins to struggle in the water should remember “turn over, don’t drown,” Cress said. “Hold your head up, dog paddle, anything. Just get on your back and get your head out of the water.”

If you see someone struggling in the water, immediately call 911, as it can be dangerous to try to rescue someone yourself, said Bream. The Rowan County Rescue Squad, as well as several Rowan County fire departments, have rescue boats to aid in searching for and rescuing swimmers in danger.

If you are able to safely remove someone from the water before help arrives, it is important to lay him on a flat surface rather than a sloped bank to perform CPR. Another key is to attempt to warm the victim, Bream said.

The CDC also recommends taking swimming lessons, which are offered at the YMCA and other places.

Learning CPR is also a great tool to prevent drowning deaths, as even seconds can save a life.

While in the water, people should use the buddy system and avoid drinking alcohol, the CDC advises.

“Alcohol and swimming absolutely do not mix,” said Bream. “Alcohol intoxication significantly increases the risk of drowning.”

Additionally, it is important to note that it does not take a lot of water to drown. A 1-year-old child can drown in as little as 10 milliliters of water.


For more information on drownings and additional preventative measures, visit www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html.

For information about YMCA swim lessons, visit www.rowanymca.com/j.-f.-hurley-ymca/aquatics. Swim lessons are $70 for nonmembers and $42 for members. Group lessons are offered free to families with a membership.