Every year, more than 3,500 people in the United States die from drowning, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s the fifth most common cause of accidental death in the country. Most people who die by drowning are children.

Drowning is a form of death by suffocation. Death occurs after the lungs take in water. This water intake then interferes with breathing. The lungs become heavy, and oxygen stops being delivered to the heart. Without the supply of oxygen, the body shuts down.

The average person can hold their breath for around 30 seconds. For children, the length is even shorter. A person who’s in excellent health and has training for underwater emergencies can still usually hold their breath for only 2 minutes.

But the health event we know as drowning only takes a couple of seconds to occur.

If a person is submerged after breathing in water for 4 to 6 minutes without resuscitation, it will result in brain damage and eventually death by drowning.

This article will discuss safety strategies to prevent drowning.

It doesn’t take a lot of water to cause drowning. Every year, people drown in bathtubs, shallow lakes, and even small puddles. The amount of liquid it takes to cause a person’s lungs to shut down varies according to their:

  • age
  • weight
  • respiratory health

Some studies indicate that a person can drown in 1 milliliter of fluid for every kilogram they weigh. So, a person weighing around 140 pounds (63.5 kg) could drown after inhaling only a quarter cup of water.

A person can drown on dry land hours after inhaling water in a near-drowning incident. This is what’s known as secondary drowning.

Dry drowning, which refers to drowning that takes place less than an hour after someone inhales water, can also occur. However, the medical community is trying to distance itself from the use of this confusing term.

Medical emergency

If you or your child has inhaled a significant amount of water in a near-drowning incident, seek emergency care as soon as possible, even if things seem fine.

Drowning happens very quickly, but it does take place in stages. The stages can take between 10 and 12 minutes before death occurs. If a child is drowning, it may happen much more quickly.

Here’s a breakdown of the stages of drowning:

  1. For the first several seconds after water is inhaled, the drowning person is in a state of fight-or-flight as they struggle to breathe.
  2. As the airway begins to close to prevent more water from getting into the lungs, the person will start to hold their breath involuntarily. This takes place for up to 2 minutes, until they lose consciousness.
  3. The person becomes unconscious. During this stage, they can still be revived through resuscitation and have a chance at a good outcome. Breathing stops and the heart slows. This can last for several minutes.
  4. The body enters a state called hypoxic convulsion. This can look like a seizure. Without oxygen, the person’s body appears to turn blue and may jerk around erratically.
  5. The brain, heart, and lungs reach a state beyond where they can be revived. This final stage of drowning is called cerebral hypoxia, followed by clinical death.

Drowning happens quickly, so being proactive about preventing drowning accidents is essential.

Children between the ages of 5 and 14, as well as adolescents and adults over 65, are at a higher risk for drowning.

Children under 5 years old face an extremely significant risk of drowning. Males have a higher risk than females, especially teenage males.

To prevent drowning, there are some best practices you can follow.

Fence off pools and entrances to bodies of water

If you live in a home with a pool or near a lake, creating an access barrier between the water and children who can’t yet swim unsupervised can be the difference between life and death.

Invest in swimming lessons

Lessons from a licensed, CPR-certified instructor can make children and adults less afraid of the water, and also give them a healthy respect for how dangerous water can be.

The World Health Organization points out that swim lessons and water education are essential to reducing drowning rates worldwide.

Always supervise children in water

When kids are playing in any water source, whether it’s the bathtub, the shower, or even a mini above-ground pool, don’t ever leave them unattended.

According to the CDC, drowning is the No. 1 cause of unintentional child death in the United States for children between the ages of 1 and 4.

Remember: Children don’t need to be in deep water to drown. It can occur even in shallow water.

Keep inflatables handy

Whenever you’re spending time in a pool or lake, make sure there are floating objects that people can grab on to in case they end up in water above their head.

Children who aren’t yet able to swim unsupervised should wear inflatable life jackets, puddle jumpers, or “swimmies” to keep them safe.

Don’t mix swimming and alcohol

Avoid becoming inebriated when you’re swimming in a lake, pool, or the ocean. Limit your alcohol consumption especially on hot days when you’re likely to be more dehydrated to than usual.

Learn CPR

If you’re a pool or boat owner, take a CPR class. If someone begins drowning, you want to be confident in your ability to revive them while you wait for emergency medical help to arrive.

Drowning remains a leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Never leave children unsupervised when enjoying time in any body of water — even if it’s a shallow one. It only takes a second to inhale water, starting the chain of events that lead to drowning.

Proactive steps, like taking swimming lessons and keeping safety equipment handy, can decrease the risk of drowning.