What you need to know about water safety from a Pediatric ER Dr.

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We love staying cool, but staying safe is even more important. Photo via @britozour on Unsplash

Ahh, sweet summertime is finally upon us. If you haven’t been outside lately, rest assured temperatures are on the rise in Birmingham. As the weather warms up, we all want to cool down. We caught up with an expert from Children’s of Alabama to get her best advice for staying safe while you splash.

Staying Safe During Summertime

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Anyone who’s spent time in the South knows our summers can get absolutely sweltering. We’re talking “carry a motorized personal fan in your purse” sweltering.

On those long, unforgiving Alabama summer days, you have to do something to beat the heat. Birmingham and the surrounding areas have it easy when it comes to that. Whether you’re floating down the river, boating on the lake, heading down to the beach or just taking a dip in the pool, water safety needs to be a priority.

The Risk

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First things first, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here. As someone who’s grown up on or around the water my entire life, it’s easy to think I’m an old pro. However, when kids get involved, the risk is certainly not to be overlooked.

Here are a few quick facts from the CDC:

  • From 2005-2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day.
  • About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.
  • For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Drownings don’t just happen out on the big blue sea. Children can drown in as little as a few inches of water, and it doesn’t always look like what we expect.

We Love Our Experts

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

When it comes to your family’s medical care, there aren’t many places as ideal as Birmingham. Our hospitals and healthcare facilities gain national accolades across the board—and more are rolling in every day.

Just this month, U.S. News & World Report named nine pediatric specialty services at Children’s of Alabama among the nation’s best children’s hospitals for 2020-21. The best of the best is right here in our Magic City!

We sat down (virtually) with one of the brightest. Alicia Webb, M.D. is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow at Children’s of Alabama and UAB. She answered all of our questions surrounding water safety and why it’s more important than ever.

“We see drownings year-round at some level, but it’s definitely more common during those summer months.

Now with coronavirus going around too, parents may be working from home and not having as close of eyes on their young children… We’re definitely seeing an increase in injuries of all types, but also in drowning injuries as well.”

Dr. Alicia Webb, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow

Proactive = Prevention

Thumbs-up for water safety. Photo via @delphoxtube on Unsplash

Now that we know the risk, let’s talk about mitigating it. Dr. Webb claims that the number one thing parents should prioritize is this: supervision.

“For young children, or really children of any age who aren’t strong swimmers, we recommend staying within one arm’s reach of the child.

So not just sitting on the pool deck, not just being somewhere in the house, but actually being in the water with them, because drowning happens very quickly.”

Dr. Alicia Webb, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow

Indoor Safety

More drownings happen indoors that I’d ever thought about. If you’re in a home with small children—toddlers, walkers, crawlers, etc—Dr. Webb advises getting toilet locks.

It may sound a little odd, but kids that age are top-heavy. If they can reach it, it’s easy to fall in—and really hard to get out.

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Outdoor Safety

Let’s talk about swimming pools. We love them, sure, but there’s no denying they can be dangerous for the kiddos. Dr. Webb recommends childproof door locks, door alarms and a four-sided pool fence.

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How to Respond

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

After speaking with Dr. Webb, I certainly learned a thing of two. There are many misconceptions about drowning, including how much water it takes, how much time it takes, what it looks and sounds like, etc.

“Unlike what some people think, drowning is not a loud activity. It’s often silent. Children aren’t necessarily going to be able to cry for help. They go underwater, and that’s pretty much it.”

Dr. Alicia Webb, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow

There are a few different scenarios that require different responses from caretakers.

  • If a child was pulled out right away and is coughing, but conscious: you can generally monitor this at home. In a situation where they continue to have trouble breathing, seek medical attention.
  • If a child is unresponsive when pulled out of the water, early bystander CPR is proven to save lives. Get more info on training here.

Knowing how to respond is important. However, the ideal scenario is that you never have to respond to this. Precautions such as lifejackets that kids can’t take off, basic swimming lessons and constant, undivided attention when a child is in the water can truly save lives.

While all of this can seem scary, it’s important to remember that supervision is key. Stay watchful, stay cool, and stay safe, Bham!

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