Do you know the real signs that someone’s drowning? Television and movies have led us to believe that drowning typically involves a bunch of splashing and shouting. In reality, though, the signs of drowning are much more subtle.

Water safety is very important when summer rolls around, and drowning doesn’t resemble the exaggerated actions you might expect. When someone is truly drowning, the body has a tendency to enter into an automatic response which makes things like splashing and calling for help nearly impossible.

Here’s how you can recognize the real signs of drowning and make sure everyone stays safe in the pool this summer.


Don’t Be Misled by TV and Movies

When people are depicted as drowning in TV and movies, there’s a whole bunch of convenient commotion. Anyone having trouble staying afloat is going to make sure that you know they’rein trouble by thrashing and calling for help.

In real life, though, the signs of drowning are completely different.

Physiologically, drowning sets your body into autopilot. Most of the time, when a person is drowning, they’re going to go into a state where the body is only concerned with staying alive, which means keeping that mouth above the water.

This means that things like speech and intentional movement (waving arms for help) are pretty much completely overridden.

A color photo of a beautiful pool.

Summer safety involves making sure that everybody knows what drowning REALLY looks like.

In other words, real drowning is quiet.

This is why drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children under 15. Many parents see a child drowning without realizing what’s happening until it’s too late.


Know the Instinctive Drowning Response

Named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., the Instinctive Drowning Response is the “autopilot mode” we mentioned earlier. Slate has a little more detail:

“The Instinctive Drowning Response…is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind.”

Basically, when you’re drowning, it gets really tough to think about or even consciously control your actions. This is because your body is trying desperately to keep itself alive. Speech is almost completely out of the question, which is why a drowning swimmer won’t be crying out for help like in the movies.

Waving isn’t going to happen either, because your arms are going to be completely engaged in pushing down on the water as much as possible. When someone doesn’t know how to swim, this tends to be the most common automatic response.

When Instinctive Drowning Response kicks in, a swimmer has about 20 to 60 seconds before submersion.


How You Can Know What to Look For

While you won’t get the glaring red flags that you might expect when someone starts drowning on TV, there are still warning signs that you can watch for when your kids (or anyone) is in the water.

Many of the signs of drowning are relatively easy to spot, even if they’re not as noticeable as shouting or waving.

If you notice someone’s head low in the water, with the mouth at water level, you might want to check on them.

Similarly, glassy eyes are an indication that trouble is afoot, and so is gasping or hyperventilating.

When a swimmer appears to be trying to swim, but not really going anywhere, it’s smart to call out and ask if everything is OK. If they can’t call back to you, it’s time to get help.

Do you have any tips for pool safety during the summer? Share with us in the comments below.


See Also

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6 Tips to Beat the Heat without Costly Air Conditioning

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