By Dr. Tracy McCallin
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
Every day, ten people die from drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every five drowning deaths involves a child under 14 years of age. Safe Kids Worldwide estimates that more than 50 percent of children who drown are age four or younger. In 2012, Texas led the United States in drowning deaths for children one to four years old. According to 2016 statistics from the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services, lake and residential pool drownings are on the rise.
We are fortunate in San Antonio to have access to many different options to stay cool on hot summer days including pools, nearby lakes, and rivers. These bodies of water can pose additional risks, such as strong currents after a lot of rain which can make swimming difficult even for advanced swimmers. Families must also be careful in the backyard with wading pools and buckets, and even the sink or bathtub can be a risk for drowning since young children can drown within seconds in less than two inches of water.
But it’s not all bad news, because drowning is preventable. Here are some tips you can use this summer to help prevent drowning and keep your children safe in the water.
- Always have a designated adult or “water watcher” who is free from distractions and social media who remains within an arm’s reach of young children in or around the water. This is called “touch supervision.” As the designated adult supervisor, you should not consume alcoholic beverages so you can respond accordingly in an emergency.
- Keep a cell phone handy for calling 911 in case of an emergency, but do not use it to browse social media while watching the children in the water.
- Use appropriate swim safety gear that will fit snugly, keep the child’s head above water, and is not easily removed. These items include life jackets and swim safety vests. Inflatable toys and vests, water wings, using an inner tube or inflatable raft does not eliminate the drowning risk because children can still get their head under water.
- For residential pools, it is recommended to install a four foot high fence around all sides of the pool with a self-closing/self-latching gate. Alarms can be installed on pool gates, perimeters, and/or pool covers but this is not a substitution for direct supervision. Ladders should be removed from above ground pools when not in use. Also, when the pool is not in use, remove all toys from the pool and deck area to help prevent accidental falls into the pool if the child tries to reach a toy.
- Empty water from all buckets, wading pools, sinks and bathtubs when not in use.
- Plan for family members to take a CPR course to be used in case of a drowning event. Starting CPR right away while waiting for help to arrive has been shown to reduce injuries and deaths from drowning.
- Enroll children in swimming lessons, which can help them learn skills in the water to keep them safe. It is still important to supervise swimmers at all times to insure even good swimmers are not having trouble in the water.
Hopefully, following these tips will help you feel more confident about keeping your children safe in the water so everyone can have a fun and relaxing summer!
About Tracy McCallin, MD
Dr. Tracy McCallin is a pediatrician who has worked in pediatric emergency medicine for the past six years. She grew up in Buffalo, NY, completed undergraduate training at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH) in 2004, and received her medical degree from the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY) in 2008. She completed her pediatric residency at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD) in 2011. Dr. McCallin has been at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio since 2013 when the Army moved her family to San Antonio. Her husband is an interventional pain physician at SAMMC. Together they have two young sons. Dr. McCallin enjoys teaching and serves as the Associate Director for PEM resident education in the emergency department. She is a member of the Texas Pediatric Society Committee on Injury Prevention and Environmental Health, and is currently working on a quality improvement project involving counseling on water safety education in the clinical setting.