Summer Signals Peak Time for Drowning Dangers

Young Children, Males Face Greatest Drowning Risks

From the WebMD Archives

June 3, 2004 -- The local pool or beach may offer refuge from the scorching summer heat, but the cool waters may also be dangerous.

A new CDC report shows more than 3,300 Americans drowned in 2001 and 4,100 were treated at emergency rooms for injuries due to nonfatal drowning accidents at the local pool, beach, or other recreational setting during 2001-2002.

Researchers say it's the first study to look at national nonfatal drowning injury rates, and they add that because even nonfatal drowning can be serious, prevention is critical.

The researchers confirmed that drowning injuries happen most often on weekends, accounting for 56% of nonfatal injuries, and in summer months (June-August), accounting for 56% of nonfatal injuries and 51% of fatalities.

The study showed that an estimated 75% of nonfatal drowning injuries happened in pools, but 70% of drowning deaths happened in natural water settings such as oceans, rivers, and lakes.

Who's at Risk?

Drowning is the seventh leading cause of accidental death for all ages and the second leading cause of injury-related deaths among children ages 1-14.


The study showed that children under age 4 are at highest risk of fatal drowning, particularly around residential pools, and males of all ages consistently faced higher fatal and nonfatal drowning risks than females.

Researchers say it's possible that men and boys may face higher drowning risks than women and girls due to their choice of higher risk activities and increased use of alcohol.

The results of the study appear in the June 4 edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Drowning Prevention

"Recreational water sites are wonderful places for family fun and physical activity," says CDC Injury Center Acting Director Ileana Arias, MD, in a news release. "Balancing the risks means keeping your family safe by choosing locations with life-guards, using Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices, supervising children and avoiding alcohol use. Take advantage of local swimming lessons and CPR classes for added safety around the water."

The CDC recommends the following drowning prevention strategies:

  • Make sure an adult is constantly watching children swimming or playing in or around the water. Do not read, play cards, talk on the phone, mow the lawn, or do any other distracting activity while supervising children around water.
  • Install four-sided pool fencing to prevent a child's unsupervised access to pools. Gate locks, weight bearing covers, and alarms may also help.
  • Choose a site with lifeguards whenever possible.
  • Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as "water wings," "noodles," or inner tubes, in place of life jackets. Use Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices in and around recreational water activities.
  • Avoid alcohol use before and during aquatic activities. Alcohol impairs balance, coordination, and judgment.
  • Swimming instruction and water safety training can help people prepare for hazardous water environments (such as currents, rip currents, waves, and underwater obstacles like riverbed rocks).
  • Know CPR. Studies have shown that bystanders can help to save lives by starting CPR before emergency response teams arrive.
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SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 4, 2004; vol 53: pp 447-451. News release, CDC.

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