You might be surprised to hear that drowning is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. An estimated 372,000 drowning-related deaths occur each year around the globe. According to WHO, it is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. The most vulnerable are our children, since they are unaware of their surroundings. It is us who should be aware of the signs related to drowning and the circumstances surrounding it.
It is one of the top 5 causes of death for people aged 1–14 years in 48 of 85 countries and accounts for 43% of all deaths in children aged 1–4 years. Children living in poorer countries and close to the coast are far more vulnerable. In Bangladesh alone, 17,000 children drown annually and 67% of them were by themselves at the time of the accident. Below are 8 facts about drowning.
1. Individuals typically drown faster in freshwater than they do in salt water.
Drowning in freshwater is different from drowning in saltwater. In fact, around 90% of drownings occur in fresh water; such as swimming pools, bath tubs and rivers. This is partly because of the chemistry of the water and how it relates to osmosis. Drowning involves suffocation while in water. While swimming in salt water, you don’t even have to breathe in the water for this occur but once you do inhale salt water, the high salt concentration prevents the water from crossing into lung tissue. The salt water acts as a barrier between the air and your lungs; limiting your ability to get oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. In order for someone to breathe again, the salt water has to be removed.
While swimming in freshwater, if you inhale water, you can die even hours after you avoided drowning in it. This is mainly due to the fact that freshwater is diluted and doesn’t cross into your skin cells, because keratin essentially waterproofs them. However, the water rushes into unprotected lung cells, causing massive tissue damage. When water enters these cells, it swells them, causing some of them to burst; exposing your capillaries to the freshwater. Once the water enters your bloodstream, it disrupts the heart’s electrical activity, eventually causing cardiac arrest from the ion imbalance.
2. Contrary to the popular belief, drowning in the Dead Sea is possible.
There’s a popular belief that no one can drown in the Dead Sea because the super-salty waters will keep everyone floating on the surface. The Dead Sea, also known as the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. The surface and shores of the Dead Sea are 423 m (1,388 ft) below sea level, making it Earth’s lowest elevation on land. With 33.7% salinity, the Dead Sea is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water and drownings in the Dead Sea are different from drowning deaths in ordinary waters. The popular tourist destination’s highly concentrated saline is said to be a cure for a number of health conditions.
The more salt is dissolved in water, the denser it becomes and objects in the water stop sinking when they displace a mass of water equal to their body mass. This is why most of a person’s body stays out of the water like a cork. Because of this density difference, it is difficult to touch the bottom with your feet and should you be flipped the opposite way, you will have a hard time lifting your head to catch a breath. Even if you manage to somehow save yourself, the dense salt and minerals in the water you swallowed is enough to cause electrolyte imbalance. It can damage your heart and kidneys and in some cases cause your body to shut down.
3. Drowning has been used as an execution method for hundreds of years.
Drowning has been used as an execution method for decades. This method was outlawed by most countries during the 17th century but came back to existence during the Salem Witch Trials, as well as during the French Revolution. The form of death penalty was considered respectable and was reserved for women and royals. Any person of royalty found guilty of a crime was punished by drowning. The person’s arms and legs were tied, then they were put into a red bag and lowered into the water. The practice was reserved for the royals because it was believed that spilling royal blood would bring reckoning.
During the Salem Witch Trials, women accused of witchcraft were weighed and thrown into water. It was believed that women who were innocent would sink while those who were witches would float. Some believed that the witches used black magic to stay afloat while others believed they floated because they had renounced baptism when entering the Devil’s service.
4. Some animals use drowning as means to escape from their enemies.
There’s a reason Disney hasn’t made any dog and raccoon buddy movies. According to several reports, raccoons have been known to drown dogs. If a raccoon wanders into your yard and your dog decides to pick a fight with it, serious battle could ensure. If the fight occurs near water, they are known to trick dogs into following them deep into water. Once the dog is vulnerable, the raccoon will dunk its head, attempting to drown it.
Kangaroos are known for their strength and fighting skills. They pack powerful kicks that could potentially be fatal. Kangaroos are known to use a similar tactic by taking advantage of their environment. In Australia, they protect themselves from dingoes by luring them into the water. Once the animal is in the water, the kangaroo will use its strength to drown it. Otters and monkeys are also known to use drowning as a means to disarm an attacker.
5. There is a process called delayed drowning, in which a person drowns even though they are no longer in a body of water.
You have probably heard of delayed drowning. Even though it sounds scary, all you have to do is learn how to spot the signs. In the case of dry drowning, water never enters the victims lungs. Rather, it causes the vocal chords to spasm and shuts off airways. Delayed drowning, sometimes called secondary drowning, is a bit different since it doesn’t happen in real-time. When swimming, the water gets into the victims body in small amounts, not enough to cause distress in breathing immediately. Over the next several hours, the victim will start experiencing trouble in breathing. According to Dr. Anna Mendenhall of the Children’s Physicians Medical Group, 9 out of 10 children who drown do so even though they were being supervised by a parent because it’s so easy to miss the signs.
After swimming, you need to look out for difficulty in breathing, coughing, chest pain, or throwing up. Symptoms such as rapid and shallow breaths, nostril flaring, or a pronounced gap in the ribs when breathing are all signs of delayed drowning. Other signs include extreme tiredness, change in behavior and physical changes. If the symptoms worsen over time, seek medical help immediately.
6. Minorities drown more frequently than others.
According to the CDC, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings from 2005-2014; that is ten deaths per day. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. Statistics also show that African-American children from the age of 5-14 are particularly at risk from drowning nearly three times as children of other races. This is not due to the difference in race but rather the place of residence. Majority of African-American’s live in urban areas where they are less likely to be exposed to water.
Statistics also show that males make up about 80% of the drowning deaths that occur every year. This is because men are more likely to drink and engage in reckless behavior around bodies of water.
7. Movies falsely depict the process of drowning.
Movies always have a way of misrepresenting things to make it more appealing to a wide range of audience. They show drowning as a dramatic process where an individual drowning is typically flailing their arms and making tons of commotion. This is not true since a person who is drowning enters a state of preservation called the “Instinctive Drowning Response”. While in this state, they are unable to move or respond to stimuli. Drowning victims do not have the ability to respond to commands or as a matter in fact, they will be unable to reach out to grab on anything. During this stage, a person has limited time before being completely submerged underwater.
8. Lake Tahoe is the final resting place for many people who have drowned in it but were never found.
Lake Tahoe, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains between California and Nevada, is an extremely popular tourist destination, especially during the summer months. What visitors don’t know is that the lake they are swimming in is the final resting place for many people who have drowned in it and were never found. Normally bodies float on the surface due to the buildup of gas from bacteria. In the case of Lake Tahoe, the bodies never float to the surface.
Once a person drowns, the lake’s freezing temperature alters the decomposition process or bacteria buildup, causing the body to submerge into the depths of the lake as far as 1,645 feet; making it difficult for divers to discover bodies.