Drowning, hydrocution: the right things to do to swim safely

Summer is a time of danger, especially when you spend your days at the water’s edge. Antoine André, emergency doctor and SNSM referent, gives us the keys to prevent drowning and hydrocution and the right actions to know in the event of an accident.

Drowning, hydrocution: the right things to do to swim safely

Last year, there were 1,480 accidental drownings, 27% of which led to death according to the Public Health France report .

“These accidental drownings concern all places and all ages. In 2021, they were more numerous among young and old people with 22% of accidental drownings among children under 6 years old and 26% among people aged 65 years old. and more”, recalls the government website.

The opportunity to remember what are the good gestures to know to avoid the worst. 

Drowning prevention: adults and children, all concerned

It only takes 20 cm of water for an unattended child to drown within minutes. Similarly, a child under 2 years old does not yet have the reflexes to struggle when he falls into the water: he sinks instantly.

In France, drowning is the very first cause of death by accident in everyday life among children under 15, every year. Hence the importance of learning to swim from an early age. To prevent these tragedies, increased and permanent surveillance is essential.

  • To the beach

The first reflex to have when arriving on a beach is to consult the forecast tables of the surveillance posts. Weather forecasts, currents, tide times… They are real mines of information that should not be overlooked. Then, we identify the color of the bathing flag (which can change during the day):

Green flag: supervised bathing and no particular danger.

Orange flag: dangerous but supervised swimming.

Red flag: swimming strictly prohibited.

Then, the mission of the parents is simple: constantly monitor their children, whether they are on the beach, at the edge or in the water. Due to the high summer crowds, you should not rely exclusively on the vigilance of lifeguards at sea, nor think that a safe bathing area protects you from all danger.

If a child does not know how to swim, he must be equipped with armbands adapted to his height, weight and age and bearing the CE marking and the NF 13138-1 standard. Be careful, these do not constitute flawless protection against drowning, just like buoys, mattresses or inflatable boats which can quickly drift out to sea. 

Adults should  not overestimate their abilities . A 500m swim in open water and in a pool have nothing to do with each other. Finally, risky behavior such as the consumption of alcohol or narcotics before taking the plunge is obviously to be avoided.

  • At the swimming pool

The public swimming pools are all supervised by lifeguards. But as on the beaches, this does not prevent having to constantly watch the children and accompany them in water games such as slides.

Private swimming pools must be equipped with barriers, shelters or covers to prevent access and immersion alarms to alert in the event of a fall in the pool. Outside periods of use, ladders or diving boards must be removed. During swimming, it is necessary to always keep a pole or a lifebuoy close at hand. 

  • In the river

For all nautical activities such as canoeing, kayaking, rafting, it is essential to equip yourself with a helmet, a life jacket and to be supervised by a professional throughout their practice. Otherwise, the necessary safety rules remain the same as those applied to the beach.

Drowning, hydrocution: the right things to do to swim safely

I’m drowning, what do I do?

Do not fight against the current and the waves so as not to exhaust yourself. Calm down, stress can make the situation worse. If possible, lie on your back (in a plank position) to rest. Your airways are then cleared and you can breathe normally to try to call for help. 

What if I see a person drowning?

Don’t take yourself for a superhero: playing lifeguard for a day cannot be improvised, especially at sea. rescue. The goal is not to endanger yourself.

The important thing is not to lose sight of the victim until the rescuers are in the water. Once the victim is out of the water, call for help. If she is breathing, place her in a recovery position (PLS) to prevent her from choking if she spits up water. If the victim is not breathing, begin performing CPR: 30 chest compressions, followed by 2 breaths. Then alternate between 30 chest compressions and 2 breaths, then continue resuscitation until help arrives if she does not resume normal breathing. 

And dry drowning?

Dry drowning does not exist: according to various doctors on social networks, this totally overused term was born from fake news in the United States after the death of a little boy a few hours after seeing the cup. However, as Toubib or Not Toubib points out on his Facebook page , the child in question was actually suffering from a heart condition. 

However, although it is very rare, it is possible to develop a lung infection if water goes down the bronchi and reaches the lungs. 

Signs that should alert: cough , respiratory failure, blue lips, irritability, great fatigue , chest pain and vomiting.

If in doubt, it is best to go to the emergency room immediately.

What is hydrocution?

Hydrocution, or thermal shock, is the consequence of sudden immersion in cold water after prolonged exposure to the sun. If there is too great a difference between the temperature of the body and that of the water, the blood vessels shrink during immersion, which can lead to loss of consciousness (which may be preceded by chills, cramps, visual, itching ), respiratory arrest and in the most severe cases, cardiac arrest. The main danger then is sinking and drowning.

Good gestures:  do not give mouth-to-mouth (unless the victim has swallowed water) but cardiac massage. 

It is therefore better not to expose yourself for too long if you intend to swim. Gradually enter the water by first wetting your arms, neck and belly instead of immersing yourself completely and abruptly.

Thank you to Doctor Antoine André , emergency doctor, SNSM referent.

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