Understanding the Menace of Shallow Water Blackouts
More and more is being understood about the dangers of shallow-water blackout but the problem is still not widely recognized or dealt with proactively. Recent surveys of nearly 300 aquatic professionals revealed that 73% DID NOT have rules banning prolonged underwater swimming and breath-holding and 86% DID NOT post signs banning prolonged underwater activities. (Source: Aquatics Safety Research Group)
What We've Learned
We've learned several reasons why prolonged breath holding is dangerous.
Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) occurs most often as the result of intentional hyperventilation (deep breaths in and out) or unintentional hyperventilation (excitement, anxiety, strenuous exercise) prior to breath-holding underwater. Hyperventilation removes carbon dioxide from the blood, which results in the brain not getting the signal that it needs to breathe, resulting in fainting underwater due to lack of oxygen. Many deaths have occurred in swimming pools due to SWB.
Drowning triggers. Sometimes when swimmers are holding their breath underwater they die from an underlying medical cause which is triggered by the breath-holding. These specific medical causes are known as 'drowning triggers,' that predispose some people to death in the water.
Lifeguards and pool users cannot tell whether a motionless swimmer underwater is unconscious or just holding his or her breath.
In our continuing effort to improve pool safety and prevent drowning, we recommend these four steps:
Include in your Pool Rules "No prolonged breath holding or breath holding games."
Purchase "No Breath Holding" signs for the pools
Train lifeguards to make them aware of the dangers of breath holding in swimming pools. Have lifeguards instruct people not to hold their breath for extended periods underwater.
Train lifeguards to respond immediately to a person who is underwater and not moving. For lifeguards, the rule should be, "When in doubt, check it out."
Your local Pool Management Group professional will be glad to discuss this important issue with you. Additionally, more information can be learned from these other industry experts.
Please join us in spreading the word and preventing this dangerous activity!