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Pool and Water Safety – Facts and Myths

Posted on Apr 16, 2018

Joe Perno, M.D.

Florida leads the country in drownings for toddlers age 1-4. For all age groups, Florida ranks third in drowning behind Alaska and Hawaii. We are second only to California. These statistics include only children who die within 24 hours of a drowning event. This does not include near drowning, which is defined by death after 24 hours or survival of the event. It does not represent the large number of children who are permanently disabled after a near drowning event.

Joe Perno, M.D., medical staff affairs officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains some facts and myths about water safety to help parents keep their children safe around the water.

FALSE: Swim lessons are the best protection against drowning.

The best protection from drowning is a four-sided fence around a pool. This would be a fence that does not use the house as one of the four sides. A perfect example would be a child fence built around the perimeter of the pool. Of course, a fence only works if it is properly installed and up. Never stack furniture or toys near the fence. If the fence has a gate, it should be a self-latching, self-closing gate.

Swim lessons have long been encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for children over the age of 4 as a means to decrease the risk of drowning. For children ages 1-4, it has been controversial. A few years ago, AAP began encouraging swim lessons for children 1-4. Although swim lessons can be very beneficial, in younger children it does not eliminate the risk of drowning. Children and parents may have a false sense of security after swim lessons and thus be less vigilant. No scientific evidence has been found to support any benefit for lessons or survival skills for children under 1.

FALSE: The more adults that are around, the safer it is for children in and around water.

Often when there are multiple adults around, everyone assumes someone else is watching the kids. Many of the drowning and near-drowning events I have seen involve large parties with many children and adults present. It is very easy for a child to fall into the pool without someone noticing with so many distractions around.

It is important to designate a dedicated water watcher, similar to a designated driver. This person is to keep an eye on the pool. It is a job that should be passed on from one adult to another, but it must be made very clear who is in charge of watching the pool and children at any given time. A general rule of thumb is that children should be within an arms length away when around a pool.

TRUE: When a child falls into a pool, it may be completely silent.

One of the most common misconceptions is that you will hear the splash as your child falls into the pool. Most times the child slides into the pool with no noise at all. Also, there is often very little splashing or crying involved as the child will rapidly sink.

FALSE: I don’t have a pool, so I don’t have to worry.

We have seen drownings occur in bathtubs, 5-gallon buckets (child looks in, falls in and can’t get out), hot tubs and even toilets. Never leave buckets around the house with water and never leave a young child in the bath unsupervised.

Learn more about pool safety.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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