Indiana Expert: Drownings Can Happen In An Instant

Jun 23, 2014

Credit M. Kuhlman

Experts are reminding Indiana parents to be vigilant when their summer fun with the kids involves water.

Earlier this month, two young brothers drowned in a pond in Hobart, and a teen boy drowned near Whiting last week after jumping off a pier into Lake Michigan.

A child should never go into the water without being watched closely by an adult, said Dr. Joseph O'Neil, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, because tragedy can happen in an instant.

"Even if your child knows how to swim, the parent needs to be supervising and watching that child closely," he said. "The younger that child is, the closer that supervision needs to be. But there have been children who have been on swim teams who have drowned."

O'Neil said formal swim lessons can be beneficial for teaching children water safety skills as early as age 3. Other safety tips include making sure children always swim with a buddy and at sites that have lifeguards.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury and death for children age 14 and younger.

In natural bodies of water, O'Neil said, parents need to be especially alert because there are additional hazards in those environments.

"A lot of times they're murky, they're a little muddy - they may have a soft bottom and you may not be able to see what's down there," he said. "So, if a child dives in, they can hit something underwater that they didn't anticipate, get caught on something."

He also cautioned parents to not rely on swim rings or arm "floaties" to prevent a child from drowning.

"They'll even say these are not meant to keep a child safe in a body of water," he said. "If you really want a personal floatation device, you need to get one that fits the child, that's been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, and is shown to be effective."

O'Neil says close supervision is even needed for small wading pools because small children can drown in just inches of water. For larger backyard pools, he said, a four-sided fence with a latching gate is recommended to prevent a child from getting to the pool without supervision.