GR 1144

Preventing Summer Drowning Risks: Essential Safety Tips

Jul 01, 2024
As summer approaches, understanding and preventing drowning risks is crucial. Discover essential safety tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable water experience for everyone.
Homed-Preventing Summer Drowning Risks: Essential Safety Tips

Preventing Summer Drowning Risks

As the summer sun beckons, many people head to swimming pools, lakes, and beaches to cool off. However, it’s crucial to recognize the potential dangers associated with water activities, particularly drowning. Drowning is a significant public health issue, especially among children and young people, ranking among the top ten causes of mortality worldwide. Understanding the risks, underlying mechanisms, and preventive measures is essential to reducing drowning incidents.

What is Drowning?

Drowning is a form of respiratory impairment resulting from submersion in a liquid medium. It can be nonfatal or fatal, with both outcomes leading to varying degrees of hypoxia—a deficiency in oxygen supply to the body tissues. This condition primarily affects the brain, which can result in severe neurological damage if not promptly and adequately treated. Immediate treatment focuses on reversing respiratory and cardiac arrest, hypoxia, hypoventilation, and hypothermia.

Who is at Risk?

Drowning can affect anyone, but certain groups are at a higher risk. These include:

  1. Children from African American, Native American, immigrant, or impoverished families:

    • Socioeconomic Factors: Many families in these communities have less access to swimming facilities and the financial resources to afford swimming lessons, limiting their opportunities to learn swimming and water safety skills.
    • Historical and Cultural Factors: Historical exclusion and racial discrimination have historically restricted access to public swimming pools and beaches for African American communities, leading to generational gaps in swimming participation and water safety knowledge.
  2. Children without formal swimming lessons who are left unsupervised around water:

    • Education and Awareness: Without formal swimming lessons, children lack essential water safety skills. Unsupervised water activities significantly increase the risk of drowning.
  3. Males over the age of one year, comprising 80% of drowning victims:

    • Behavioral Factors: Males, especially young men, are more likely to engage in risky behaviors around water, such as swimming alone or attempting dangerous stunts, leading to a higher incidence of drowning.
  4. Individuals who consume alcohol or drugs, impairing their judgment and alertness:

    • Impairment: Alcohol and drugs impair coordination, judgment, and reaction times, increasing the risk of accidents and drowning.
  5. People with medical conditions such as epilepsy, which increases the likelihood of drowning by 20 times:

    • Health Conditions: Epileptic seizures can lead to loss of consciousness and motor control while in the water, greatly increasing the risk of drowning.
  6. Individuals with arrhythmogenic cardiac disorders, such as long QT syndrome, which can trigger fatal arrhythmias during swimming:

    • Medical Risks: Cardiac conditions can be exacerbated by physical exertion during swimming, leading to sudden arrhythmias and drowning.
  7. Participants in dangerous underwater breath-holding behaviors (DUBBs), such as intentional hyperventilation, hypoxic training, and static apnea:

    • High-Risk Activities: These behaviors reduce the body’s natural urge to breathe, leading to hypoxia, loss of consciousness, and potential drowning.

Common Settings for Drowning

Drowning incidents often occur in various water environments, including:

  • Swimming pools, hot tubs, and natural water settings such as lakes and oceans.
  • Household settings, where infants and toddlers may drown in toilets, bathtubs, or even buckets of water or cleaning fluids.

Pathophysiology of Drowning


Hypoxia is the primary consequence of drowning, affecting the brain, heart, and other tissues. It can result from fluid aspiration, leading to acute reflex laryngospasm (previously termed dry drowning), or lung injury. This can cause cerebral edema and, in severe cases, permanent neurological damage. Hypoxia can also lead to metabolic acidosis, where the body’s pH levels fall due to inadequate oxygenation. Aspiration of fluid, especially with particulate matter or chemicals, can lead to chemical pneumonitis or secondary bacterial pneumonia, further impairing lung function and potentially causing respiratory failure.


Cold water immersion can induce systemic hypothermia, which paradoxically can have protective effects. The mammalian diving reflex, which is more pronounced in young children, slows the heart rate and constricts peripheral arteries, directing oxygenated blood to vital organs such as the heart and brain. This reflex, combined with reduced oxygen needs of hypothermic tissues, can delay the onset of hypoxic tissue damage, potentially prolonging survival in drowning victims.

Fluid Aspiration

Aspiration during drowning is often limited by laryngospasm. While previously distinguished between freshwater and seawater drowning due to potential electrolyte imbalances, research indicates that the amount of liquid aspirated is usually insufficient to cause significant shifts. However, aspiration can lead to pneumonia and pulmonary edema.

Dangerous Underwater Breath-Holding Behaviors (DUBBs)

DUBBs are practiced by individuals, often healthy young men, to prolong their ability to stay submerged. These behaviors include:

  1. Intentional hyperventilation to delay the ventilatory response to elevated carbon dioxide levels.
  2. Hypoxic training for extending underwater swimming or breath-holding capacity.
  3. Static apnea for remaining motionless and breath-holding as long as possible.

These practices can lead to hypoxia, loss of consciousness (hypoxic blackout), and subsequent drowning.

Associated Injuries

Drowning incidents may also involve other injuries such as skeletal, soft-tissue, head, and internal injuries, particularly among those engaged in surfing, water skiing, boating, or involved in flood scenarios. Diving into shallow water can cause cervical and spine injuries, potentially leading to drowning.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing summer drowning risks requires a multifaceted approach:

  1. Supervision: Always supervise children around water, even if they can swim.
  2. Swimming Lessons: Enroll children in formal swimming lessons.
  3. Safety Measures: Use life jackets and ensure pools have proper barriers and covers.
  4. Avoid Alcohol and Drugs: Refrain from consuming substances that impair judgment around water.
  5. Educate About Risks: Raise awareness about DUBBs and the dangers of unsupervised water activities.
  6. Emergency Preparedness: Learn CPR and have emergency plans in place for quick response.

By understanding the risks and implementing effective prevention strategies, we can significantly reduce the incidence of drowning and ensure safer enjoyment of water activities.

Preventing Summer Drowning Risks



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