Drowning risk increases as the heat wave intensifies; use caution while swimming, experts say

Jul 26, 2022, 11:11 AM | Updated: 11:25 am

lake union...

(Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The risks of extreme heat are not limited to heat-related illnesses. The way we play in the heat can also be dangerous due to the increased risks of drowning.

Dr. Linda Quan at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington School of Medicine said drownings go up whenever we see temperatures above 80 degrees.

The region has decreased drownings in young children over the years, but Quan said we’re seeing a greater proportion of drownings happening among young adults. This age group is more likely to take risks on the water, she said, because the brain hasn’t fully developed and matured.

Two men drown in Nooksack River in flipped commercial raft incident

Quan says in half of the local drownings, alcohol is involved. Alcohol impairs your judgment, making you more likely to do something dangerous. It affects your balance if you’re trying to stand on a paddleboard. And if you are falling into cold water while under the influence, even before cold water shock sets in, you can have a heart attack.

“We all know it has an effect on judgment, we know it affects balance, but it also has an effect on the heart especially when you jump or fall in cold water that can basically cause cardiac arrest,” Quan said.

Other risks on the water include the temperature; while the first few inches of water right now are warm, it’s still dangerously cold below that. The shock of the water can lead to drowning, especially for weaker swimmers like children and the elderly. Even a strong swimmer will only be able to swim for a few minutes in cold water before the temperature causes their limbs to essentially freeze up.

Another big risk is swimming in rivers, and not just because of the current. There are also the many different things you can be pulled into and trapped under, like brush and logs. Again, even a good swimmer can drown if they become pinned by a fallen tree.

“We have additional hazards in our rivers,” Quan said. “Fallen trees brush, these pose an additional risk, too. Getting pinned in those is the point of no return, even if you can swim.”

Quan recommends that people avoid swimming in rivers altogether — or if you must swim in a river, wear a life jacket and seek out a designated swimming area.

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