drowning doesn't look like drowningThe most shared article I’ve seen in my feeds the past few days has been Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning from Slate.

As we head into the summer swimming season, the article is a cautionary tale about the signs of drowning at public pools, beaches, lakes, and more.

The biggest takeaway? Drowning in real life is not like it is on TV or in the movies. There is little splashing, flailing, and screaming. It’s a deceptively quiet event. Your child could be near you, drowning, and you wouldn’t even know it.

750 kids will drown this year, half of them within 25 yards of a parent or adult.

This is serious stuff for parents, as drowning in the #2 accidental death of children under 15. Car accidents is tops, drowning is second. SECOND.

So how does it happen? Why is it that drowning doesn’t look like drowning?



The article discusses The Instinctive Drowning Response to explain why it’s not like what we see in the movies.

“Drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help,” Dr. Francesco Pia says in On Scene magazine“The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.”


You recognize a drowning victim by the position of their head in the water. It will be low, with their mouth at water level or the head will be tilted back with their mouth open.  Remember they’re trying to breathe more than they are trying to ask for help and they are struggling to stay above the water level.


A drowning person’s eyes will be closed or unfocused and zombie like. They may also have hair covering their forehead and eyes from constantly falling forward in the water and unable to move their arms to wipe the hair away.


The waving and flailing you see on TV won’t happen in a real life drowning situation. Instinctively a victim will stretch their arms and press on the water to raise their head above the surface. They are also unable to voluntarily control their arms, it’s all instinct to to try and stay above the water, which means they won’t be waving for help or reaching for a rescuer.


There will be no flailing, but a drowning person will be trying to swim without making any headway.  They may also be trying to struggle to roll over onto their back without success.


So drowning doesn’t look like drowning. How can you tell if it’s serious?

Ask the person if they’re okay. If they can respond, they’re probably fine, if they are quiet and just stare blankly, you need to find out why – quickly.


If you’re going to be spending a lot of time near the water this summer, do yourself a favor and learn CPR and save a life.

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