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Drowning: A Silent Killer in Children
By Carol Ball, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

While water recreation provides children and their families hours of fun and exercise, water and children can be a dangerous mix. Parents should be aware that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental injury-related death among children ages 1 to 14 and the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1 to 4.

Although water exercise is very common, the lack of parental knowledge about drowning risks is striking. According to new research done by Safe Kids Worldwide, only a third, or 34 percent, of parents recognizes that drowning is one of the top two causes of accidental death among children. Sadly, drowning is not the only risk of pools. More than 66 percent of parents are not familiar with the risks of drain entrapment.

Entrapment occurs when part of a child's body becomes attached to a drain because of the powerful suction of a pool's filtration system. Serious injuries can occur when the force of the suction overpowers the child's ability to rise to the surface. Often, the strength of an adult is still not enough to remove a child trapped by a pool's drainage system.

"A child is no match for the powerful suction of a drain," said Martin Eichelberger, M.D., of Safe Kids Worldwide and director of Emergency Burn Services at Children's National Medical Center. "The dangers of the drain can easily be mitigated with the right equipment. Parents should warn their children to stay away from drains and install safety devices if they own a pool or spa."

Safety devices include anti-entrapment drain covers and safety vacuum release systems (SVRS). SVRS detect any blockage of a drain, immediately shutting off the suction to prevent entrapment. Pool owners should also install multiple drains, not just one, in order to decrease the amount of suction at the drain site.

Drowning is often a silent death because there is very little noise to alert anyone that the child is in danger. Fortunately, drowning can be prevented. Parents can help lessen the risk factors by following some simple safety tips.

" Teach your children to stay away from the drain, and warn your children about the dangers of drain entanglement and entrapment
" Actively supervise your children around water, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency. Unfortunately, many parents do not realize the importance of active supervision around water at all times. Active supervision means that a parent or caregiver is giving undivided attention to the child and is close enough to help the child in case of emergency.

" Ensure your pool has fencing around all sides and a self-closing, self-latching gate, to prevent a child from wandering into the pool area unsupervised. It is estimated that the use of four-sided isolation fencing could prevent 50 to 90 percent of pool drownings and near drownings.

" Install a door alarm, a window alarm or both on the side of the house facing the pool or spa to alert you if a child wanders into the pool or spa area unsupervised.

" Tie long hair securely so that it will not get caught in a pool or spa drain. Entrapment can occur when a child's hair or swimsuit gets tangled in the drain or on an underwater object, such as a ladder.

For more information on pool safety, visit www.choa.org or www.safekids.org.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the leading pediatric healthcare systems in the country, is a not-for-profit organization that benefits from the generous philanthropic and volunteer support of our community. Operating three hospitals with more than half a million patient visits annually, Children's is recognized for excellence in cancer, cardiac, neonatal, orthopaedic and transplant services, as well as many other pediatric specialties. Children's is ranked as one of the top 10 children's hospitals nationwide by Child magazine and is among U.S. News & World Report's top pediatric hospitals. Children's has also been named as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" by Fortune magazine. To learn more about Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, visit our Web site at www.choa.org or call 404-250-KIDS.

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