Drowning amongst children

Dr James Nutt, General Practitioner, Intercare Glenfair

Drowning is one of the main causes of unnatural deaths amongst children in South Africa. The sad truth is that almost all of these deaths are potentially preventable by proper supervision of children who are not yet able to swim; educating children on the dangers of open water sources and fencing off swimming pools or installing good quality safety nets.

Accidents can happen quickly and a child can sustain permanent brain damage within minutes of being deprived of oxygen. Small children can even drown in a large basin used for washing dishes or a small fish pond, despite the water being only a couple of centimetres deep. These factors should be taken into account when making one’s home child-proof or when visiting places with open water sources.

The question arises – in case of a near drowning, what are the first steps that should be taken in order to save somebody’s life?  Even though circumstances will dictate the exact actions, the following can serve as a guideline:


Parents, older siblings and caregivers should all be familiar with basic resuscitation techniques. The earlier CPR is initiated, the sooner fresh oxygen starts circulating through the blood stream to the brain and flush away toxins which have built up due to oxygen starvation. Minutes can literally mean the difference between brain damage and normal brain function.

Call an ambulance

Call an ambulance and continue with CPR at the site of the accident. Do not rush to the hospital; rather wait for the paramedics to arrive. Note: Have the telephone numbers of your local emergency services written down where it is easily accessible (on the fence of the swimming pool, refrigerator door, etc.) In a state of panic during an emergency one may be unable to recall telephone numbers that are not regularly used.

Do not administer other first aid methods

Do not try to remove water from the patient’s body as this can lead to vomiting and aspiration. Wait for the paramedics.

Specialized care

Despite severe initial oxygen deprivation, medical units specializing in near drowning treatment can achieve excellent recovery results with methods such as cooling down the body to below normal temperatures and vital function support. Never give up hope.

Specialized care www.picu.netcare.co.za/drowninginchildren.html

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