By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Summer is upon us. It is time to start swimming. It is also time to pay attention to water safety. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under age 14. It is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 4 years.

Of interest is the fact that adolescents have the second highest number of fatal drownings after toddlers. One-third of those drownings are alcohol related. Therefore drinking is a big risk factor. In addition, the drownings in that age group tend to occur in open bodies of water as opposed to pools.

About twice as many drownings are in boys as opposed to girls. So male sex is another risk factor.

A survey of parents in 2007 found that 90 percent of parents claimed that they consistently supervised children around water. It is not likely that all the pediatric drownings occurred in the other 10 percent. Therefore, supervision leaves something to be desired.

Some medical conditions are associated with a higher risk of drowning. Seizure disorders are at the top of that list. That is especially true if the seizures are not well controlled. Interestingly, there is a high incidence of bathtub drownings in that group.

Other disorders that increase risk include neurologic disorders and cardiac heart rhythm disorders. Children with autism are at increased risk. The risk goes up if they have developmental delay. The risk goes up if they tend to wander around on their own.

Prevention of drowning has multiple aspects to it. Home pools should all have a four-sided fence. There should be self latching gates. This is the single best means of preventing drowning in young children.

Swim lessons for young children can begin at about age one. The focus should be on water competency. That means recognizing risks and learning how to prevent drowning behavior.

Coast guard-approved life vests are useful for pools. They are mandatory for boating activities.

Parents and other adults need to be involved in several ways. The first is that they should not be drinking alcohol when they are supervising young children around water. The second is that they should be within arm’s reach of children at all times.

The most effective approach to handling a drowning incident is good immediate CPR. Parents who will be with their children around water should be fluent in CPR techniques. That is especially true for the breathing portion since heart involvement is often a later sign.

Water can be dangerous. So just like other dangerous conditions, we should be prepared for an emergency. We would not think of having an adolescent drive a car without lessons. A fence around the pool is like a car air bag. A flotation device is like a seat belt. Alcohol and swimming do not mix just like when driving a car.

Water activities are a good way to spend time during the summer. They also have dangers associated with them. Being prepared for those dangers is the first step.