Drowning occurs most often among small children and people who can’t swim, but even experienced swimmers may be susceptible, depending on weather conditions, water currents, their health and other circumstances.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children ages one to four years of age. It only takes a few seconds for a child to drown, and small children can drown in just a few inches of water — in a bathtub, a toilet or a bucket.

Parents need to keep a close eye on their children when they are near any water sources, especially pools or at the beach or a lake. In addition, parents need to know the limits of their child’s ability to swim and to set firm ground rules for play around the water, and to never leave kids unsupervised. For every child who drowns, more than 10 children are treated in emergency departments for near drowning.

In addition, boating accidents can also result in drowning. While life jacket use has increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of people who died in boating accidents were not wearing any kind of flotation device. Just because you know how to swim doesn’t mean you should go boating without a life jacket. Wearing a life jacket is important for anyone who goes out on water.

If a person appears to be drowning (e.g., is flailing in the water, yelling for help, coughing or going under, or appears to be unconscious or floating in the water), check the area, alert a lifeguard if one is nearby, then call 911 or your local emergency number. In addition:

  • Do not attempt to rescue a drowning person while in the water yourself unless you are trained to do so and have lifesaving equipment. People who are drowning may panic and pull you underwater with them; dangerous circumstances — such as strong currents or rip tides — may also endanger you.
  • If possible, reach out with or throw an object that floats to the person from a secure out-of-water position, such as a boat, a swimming pool ladder or a dock.
  • For a person pulled from the water, tilt the head back, lift the chin and check for breathing and other signs of life. Expel fluid or other objects from the mouth.

If the person is not breathing, give two slow rescue breaths. If rescue breaths go in, give CPR.  If rescue breaths do not go in, reposition the airway and reattempt.

If the person is still not breathing after rescue breaths are administered, see section on unconscious choking.

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