It’s always the right time of year to remind Orange County locals
and visitors about the importance of preventing drowning and water-related
injuries, since so many of us are in the water every day, beachside or
poolside. Orange County’s water-related injuries are a side effect
of the great weather with which we have been blessed, our many swimming
pools, the oceanfront that stretches from San Clemente to Seal Beach,
and our big surf. With our year-round tourism, drowning isn’t just
a summer danger.
Drowning is often called “the silent disease.” It only takes
a few seconds for a child to slip underwater, and it can happen without
a sound. Far too many cases of pediatric drowning or near-drowning come
into the Mission Hospital emergency department as the result of an adult’s
brief loss of attention.
Call 911 in case of a drowning. If you cannot swim, do not enter the water
to try and rescue someone; at swimming pools, look for rescue poles or
life preservers mounted poolside. Upon rescue, anyone who has aspirated
water in a near-drowning incident should be immediately taken to the nearest
emergency department. And if someone has been pulled from the water, it’s
imperative that a medical examination be performed to assess oxygen flow
to the brain and to discover whether any internal injury has occurred.
Taking these basic steps to reduce the chances of drowning are the responsibility
of everyone who goes to the beach or swims in the pool:
- Everyone, including young children, should learn how to swim and learn CPR.
- Life vests for less-skilled swimmers is key.
- No one should ever swim alone.
- Bring children to a lifeguard-protected beach or pool; if there is no lifeguard
on duty, designate at least one adult observer in your party to act as
Another cause of trips to the Mission Hospital emergency department is
beach-related traumatic injury. Beachgoers of all ages all-too-frequently
injure themselves on the sand before they’ve even gone into the
water: Collisions between pedestrians and boardwalk bicyclists, for example,
can result in lacerations, cuts, bruises and even broken bones. Once in
the water, surfing and skimboarding can result in unexpected, serious
injury. Falling into shallow sand catches people by surprise and can cause
spinal cord injury if they fall on their head. Head injury in surfers,
resulting from direct contact with the board, is fairly common and could
lead to drowning or concussion. So take common sense measures to stay safe:
- Stay aware of your surroundings when walking on slippery, sandy boardwalks,
and don’t let children dart across bike paths.
- Before going in the water, check with the lifeguard for surf conditions
and local rules.
- Wear a leash to keep your surfboard from becoming a hazard to others.
- Don’t surf or swim in conditions over your ability level—if
in doubt, don’t go out.
Be safety-conscious in and around the water and enjoy the aquatic opportunities
Orange County has to offer.
Michael S. Ritter, MD, is the medical director of emergency services at
Mission Hospital, and a board-certified emergency physician. Learn more about Dr. Ritter. Learn more about Mission Hospital.