Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning: Facebook Post Shares Quiet Signals

Tuesday, 04 Jun 2013 06:34 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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It may be hard to tell when someone is drowning because it rarely looks like the dramatic drownings featured on TV or in the movies.

A popular Facebook post is making the rounds again this summer – just in time for swimming season – highlighting how difficult it can be to tell when someone is drowning.

People who are trained to watch for drowning victims, like lifeguards, know that drowning is often a very quiet event. Rarely do the victims scream or wave their arms frantically, but instead they just slip beneath the water.

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Mario Vittone posted a video of Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., explaining what the former lifeguard has coined as the Instinctive Drowning Response. The disturbing video, taken from shore as the boy was in distress, shows a young man drowning while people stand nearby in the water. A lifeguard rescues the swimmer.

Pia, who has worked to educate people on how to recognize when someone is drowning, told Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine in a 2006 article that people rarely are able to call out for help. Their mouths sink below the surface and then reappear, which keeps them from inhaling and calling for help. In addition, drowning people can’t wave for help because their arms instinctively press down on the water to push them toward the surface to breathe.

Shockingly, according to Pia, drowning events occur typically in 20 to 60 seconds.

An article in Aquatics International pointed out a study that analyzed more than 750 drowning scenes in movies and on TV, and 200 portrayed the event inaccurately. The distorted view of drowning and whether it’s possible to bring drowning victims back from clinical death by CPR alone (it’s not) is dangerous, the article’s author John Fletemeyer said.

The Drowning Prevention Foundation reports that 19 percent of all children die while a certified lifeguard is present. Video surveillance after drowning deaths has found that many adults were near drowning victims, but didn’t realize they were in distress.

More education on how drowning actually occurs is needed, Fletemeyer said.

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