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5 Telltale Signs Someone is Drowning

With about one month left of sunny weather, we need to be as diligent around water as possible. Just recently, a handful of deaths and injuries from drowning have been reported in the Northeast area, including at lakes and pools.


Why do preventable, tragic drownings continue to happen? That's because many myths still persist on what drowning looks like. The first, and probably the most important thing to know is that Drowning is Silent. In the movies, you might see someone splashing around and yelling for help, but the reality is much different.


In this article, we'll show you the signs of drowning so that you can be prepared to take action. You never know. This could help save someone's life!


Lifeguard about to Make a Save

The human response to drowning is universal. It's an instinctual response to survive for as long as possible, and may look different from what an observer would imagine. This is called the Instinctive Drowning Response, and was coined by former lifeguard and professor Francesco M. Pia, PhD.


The Five Signs Someone is Drowning

  1. The drowning person's head bobs up and down in the water, while the body stays suspended in a vertical position. This is part of the survival response to drowning, where the person tries to inhale and exhale as much as possible when above water. They are unable to speak or yell during this time.

  2. Their arms press down laterally on the water and press inward when in the water. This is another instinctive response to drowning, and makes the person unable to raise their arms above water in order to call for help.

  3. Their legs are not kicking or splashing, but remain in an upright position while the body tries to go in and out of the water.

  4. They are completely silent.

  5. They appear as if they are staring into nowhere, or swimming in a particular direction with no progress at all.

How do you know for sure? Ask someone "Are you alright?" If they don't respond, or if their eyes look glassy or off-focus, they may be drowning.

Once a person is drowning, you have 30 seconds or less to respond to the situation. - Francesco M. Pia, PhD

If you think someone might be drowning, seek help immediately. Tell a lifeguard. If no one is around, it is important to proceed with extreme caution, as a drowning person will grab onto anything to stay afloat, including a rescuer's body, putting you at risk. In this case, it is essential to find a buoyant object and throw it toward the drowning person.


Once a person is out of the water, CPR may be a lifesaving skill. Even if CPR doesn't completely resuscitate a drowning person, it can help keep oxygen flowing to the brain while the ambulance is on its way. As a parent, knowing CPR is essential. There may be many free or low cost CPR courses in your area. Check the American Red Cross page for more information.


The water is dangerous, but with training and education, we can take better control of our environment. Let's keep the rest of the summer fun, happy, and safe!

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