Water safety expert: 'Drowning doesn't just happen'

Following the rules of a pool is key, experts say: No running, no horseplay, no diving into shallow water.

Story highlights

  • Recent teen death in Florida has experts concerned about water safety
  • Ten people die every day from unintentional drowning in the United States
  • Approximately 35% of Americans know how to swim, expert says
  • One of the most subtle forms of drowning is called "shallow water blackout"
As adults we're told time and again to keep a close eye on young children around water. Most kids who drown are under the age of 4 -- toddlers who accidentally fall into water too deep.
They can drown in minutes in less than 2 inches of water.
But the recent death of a 13-year-old at a pool in Florida has experts concerned about water safety for pre-teens and adolescents.
Anthony Johnson had been playing in a pool at Disney's Pop Century Resort on Sunday. Relatives told CNN affiliate WFTV that Anthony was jumping in and out with friends when they noticed him missing, and pulled him out of the water within minutes.
The boy died Tuesday morning, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Police are still investigating his death.
Ten people die every day from unintentional drowning in the United States, making it the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 20% are under the age of 14. Nearly 80% are male.
"The first thing to remember is that drowning doesn't just happen," says Alison Osinski, water safety expert and president of Aquatic Consulting Services. "Something always precipitates drowning."
Only about 35% of Americans know how to swim, and only 2% to 7% swim well, Osinski says. Teens are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and often go past their limits. Exhaustion or disorientation under water could cause a weak swimmer to panic.
In this case, the swimmer would go through the stages of what lifeguards call an "active drowning," Osinski says. The word "active" may be misleading, as active drowning is nothing like what you usually see on TV.
In an active drowning, a swimmer is at or below eye level at the surface of the water for about 10 to 20 seconds. The head is tilted back to get air. The eyes are either wide open or tightly shut. The mouth is often in an "O" shape from shock.
"You're not drowning if you can call for help," Osinski says.
After about 20 seconds, the swimmer will start to sink and will hold his breath underwater for anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. If rescued during this time, the swimmer usually will be fine.
After 90 seconds, Osinski says, a swimmer will black out. At this point, things get dicey. If a swimmer is resuscitated after the four-minute mark, there's a high risk of brain damage.