Summer is all about water. Swimming, as fun and refreshing as it may be, it is not without risks.
Greece, is a country with primarily water borders, dispersed over the Aegean sea with islands and yet, each year counts more than 400 deaths due to accidental drowning, in addition to the near drowning events that lead to hospitalization and possible adverse health outcomes.
Men tend to be three times more frequently subject to drowning than women in Greece. The highest mortality is observed in men in their early twenties, while 10 children and adolescents lose their life to drowning every year.
Globally, it is estimated, that 1 person is drowning every 30 seconds and about 1 in 5 people who drown are children 14 years old and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency treatment for nonfatal submersion injuries.
Near Drowning refers to the nonfatal cases, where the victim survives an event of involuntary submersion in water or in other liquid. Submersion in water is life threatening due to hypoxia caused by water filling the lungs and blocking normal air breathing. Even when non-fatal, these events may lead to lung complications, electrolyte imbalance, heart arrhythmias and even severe brain damage. All individuals who have experienced a near drowning event, even if appearing to be well at the time, should be medically examined and monitored for at least 24 hours for complications and traumatic injuries. Especially, near drowning victims who were in need of resuscitation should be admitted to hospital for thorough evaluation, treatment and follow up.
It is worth noting that majority of drownings occur in the beach proximity, no further than 10 meters off the coast and most drownings in children younger than one year old, occur in the bathtub, thus highlighting the fact that there is room for prevention, as well as a critical time window to call for help and to employ lifesaving interventions.
A summary of the most frequent risk factors that endanger the public in the beach and around recreational waters, as well as the recommended best practice and behaviour to ensure safety and enjoy activities in and around water, can be found here.
|Sunburn, heat stroke||Always use high factor sunblock, hat, sunglasses and a t-shirt or two-piece bathing suit for children. Sit under the shade. Hydrate often and snack. Avoid going to the beach during 10:00 am– 16:00 pm|
|Hot Sand – skin burning, sharp objects in the sand-foot and skin injuries||Wear proper shoes. Watch for hazardous materials hidden in the sand|
|Rip currents, waves, shore break
|Watch out for flags and warning signs. If you encounter a situation like this, do not panic, remain calm and swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim towards the shore.|
|Hidden obstacles in the water, debris and water quality||Do not swim in areas where you cannot see what is around. Avoid swimming with your head underwater|
|Weather and environmental conditions:
a. waves, thunder, storm
b. Water and air temperature
|a. Always check the weather forecast and look for flags on the beach and their meaning. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder before returning to the beach
b. In case of prolonged time of swimming use wet suit
|Injuries from water life creatures and beach animals (e.g. jellyfish, urchins)
|Be aware of your surroundings and wear puncture-proof water shoes when wading. Get informed about the conditions in the sea before entering the water, wear protective wetsuit and avoid periods with increased sea-life activity. In case of a sting or bite, treatment depends on the type of offending creature and the individual’s reaction, ranging from basic first aid care to seeking medical assistance|
|Do not swim outside buoys designated area|
|Jet skis||Do not swim outside buoys designated area|
|Surf boards, canoe and other water sports related activities||Search for signs indicating water sports activities in the area|
|Swimming alone||Always swim with a buddy|
|Swimming away from the shore||Always swim parallel to the shore as it is easier to return in case of emergency|
|Swimming near piers, jetties or sandbars||Avoid swimming near piers, jetties or sandbars|
|Head dives||Avoid head diving. Only dive feet first in water marked safe for diving and marked at least 3 meters deep|
|High diving from piers, bridges and boats||Only dive in water marked safe for diving. Do not high dive when having low visibility of the seabed|
|Breath holding and dynamic apnoea sports||Do not hyperventilate before going underwater or try to hold your breath for a long period of time. This behaviour can make you lose consciousness and result in drowning|
|Kids unattended||Kids can drown in the blink of an eye, even in shallow waters. Always watch kids when you are sober giving them your undivided attention. Distractions such as reading, talking or mobile phone use can be fatal|
|Air-filled and foam toys||Life jacket use is recommended instead using air-filled and foam toys|
|Unknown waters||Always enter unknown or shallow water cautiously, feet first. Watch for unexpectedly change in water depth|
|Unguarded beaches||Always swim in designated beaches with a lifeguard|
|Night swim||Night swim is not encouraged as usually there is not adequate light at the sea. Also avoid swimming in poorly lighted pools. If you however proceed to night swim always have company and stay close to them|
|Under the influence of:
b. Sedative and other suppressant medication
|Never swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Disorientation and dehydration can cause death and serious injuries|
|Not knowing how to swim
|Learn how to swim, teach kids how to swim. You must know at least how-to doggie paddle before going to swim. If you do not know how to swim wear a lifejacket or swim in waist deep water|
|Overestimate fitness capabilities
|Do not overestimate your capabilities, regardless of your fitness level and swimming skills. Avoid swimming alone, do not take unnecessary risks. Swim parallel to the shore instead of getting away from it|
|Swimming right after meals||Wait for three hours after having a meal before swimming|
By Anna Tzortzi, MD, Pulmonologist
Scientific Director “George D. Behrakis Research Lab”
Associate Director “Institute of Public Health, The American College of Greece”
and Melpo Kapetanstrataki, Biostatistics Consultant & Technical Support