Drowning Risk Greater for Children, Youth

The body of a 14-year-old Westport teenager was found recently on Ocean Shores Beach, two weeks after he disappeared while swimming with a friend. The teenager’s friend, age 12, said the two were swimming in waist-deep water when a rip tide overcame them. The younger boy was thrown to shore, but the 14-year-old was pulled under.

The ocean along Washington’s coastline is an attractive lure for teenagers and children. Although it is beautiful, it is also potentially dangerous. Rip tides can form at any moment and are far more powerful than many people realize.

Whether in the ocean or a neighbor’s pool, the risk of drowning is great for children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of every five drowning victims is under the age of 15.  Furthermore, for every child who dies in a drowning accident, five others require emergency treatment. On average, 10 people die every day in drowning accidents across the United States. That means that each year more than 3,500 people lose their lives by drowning.

Injuries from near-drowning can be very serious. If a victim does not die as a result of the submersion, it is far too likely that he or she will be seriously injured. In fact, over 50 percent of all near-drowning victims who are treated in emergency rooms are ultimately hospitalized or require further emergency treatment. This occurs because of what actually happens when a person suffers a near-drowning accident. After a brief time under water, the victim’s blood starts to run low on oxygen. If this is not corrected within a relatively short period, it can cause problems with the electrical conduction system in the heart as well as deprive the brain of much-needed oxygen. The result may be permanent brain damage.

Risk Factors for Drowning

There are a number of factors that raise the risk of a person being involved in a drowning accident. Some factors, such as proximity to large bodies of water, cannot be easily changed; however, many of the others can be.  Some common risk factors according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • Age of the victim — The younger the person, the more likely he or she will be involved in a drowning accident
  • Inability to swim —  Research has shown that swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning, particularly for youth.
  • Lack of supervision — Even when lifeguards are present a drowning can occur. But having lifeguards present is better than swimming unattended.
  • Lack of barriers — A four-sided separation fence reduces the risk of a small child drowning by 83 percent.
  • Failing to wear lifejackets — According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 88 percent of boat-related drowning victims were not wearing their life jackets.
  • Alcohol —  Alcohol can affect your coordination, balance and judgment, all of which are essential when near water.