Drowning is the leading cause of accidental deaths in children >1 year old. In the United States, it is estimated that 8,000 deaths occur each year from drowning, of which 40% involve children less than 5 years old. Most of these incidents happen at home in pools, bath tubs, hot tubs, and buckets. Because of their risk-taking behaviors, boys have a greater risk of drowning than girls. About 98% of drowning occurs in freshwater.
There is a thin line of demarcation between the words ‘drowning’ and ‘near drowning’ in terms of definition. Drowning is death within 24 hours of submersion. Near drowning is defined as survival more than 24 hours after submersion, whether the victim later survives or not. The clinical presentation of the victim varies. Children on brief submersion may be awake or alert, while some have cardiopulmonary arrest or respiratory problems.
There are a lot of diagnostics and monitoring that should be done as soon as the victim arrives in the hospital. But all these amount to nothing if early resuscitation at the scene had not been given. Instituting first aid is crucial for the survival of the victim and to lessen the complications of near drowning.
In giving first aid to your child who has drowned, keep the following goals in mind:
1. Restore adequate breathing
• Your first priority is to get your child on dry land. If he is unconscious while you’re lifting him off to dry land, keep his head lower than the rest of his body to reduce the risk of him inhaling the water in case he vomits.
• Lay your child down on his back and check for breathing.
If he is spontaneously breathing, place him in a recovery position. This is done by letting him lie on his side with his arm (on the side to where he lies) at right angles to the body, and the other arm placed across his chest, pressing his palm against his cheek. Adjust the upper leg so that both the hip and the knee are bent at right angles.
If your child is not breathing, tilt the head back to open the airway. Pinch his nose and give 2 effective rescue breaths. Then check for signs of circulation such as breathing, coughing, or movement. If present, place him in a recovery position. If absent, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR immediately by giving alternate 15 chest compressions with 2 rescue breaths. Repeat as necessary. If he starts to breathe, but remains unconscious, place him into a recovery position. Keep monitoring the breathing status and be ready to start CPR again once his condition deteriorates.
2. Keep your child warm to avoid hypothermia
• Remove wet clothing and cover him with dry blankets.
• If he regains full consciousness, give him a warm drink.
3. Bring your child to the hospital without further delay
• Arrange to take or send your child to the hospital even if he seemed to have recovered well. Any victim of drowning should be evaluated by the doctor even if he or she seemed to have recovered well. He could have some pulmonary complications in which the symptoms are still not evident.
Since drowning can happen in your own home and children are especially at risk, it is highly advisable for every parent to know how to administer first aid. Who knows, the life you can save from this horrible accident is the life of your own bundle of joy.