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Information on drowning

Learn about drownings among children, adolescents, and adults

Drowning is a leading cause of death among children. Most child drownings involve a brief lapse in supervision — for example, taking one’s eyes off of a child to text or talk on a cell phone. Many people assume that if someone is drowning, they will be splashing or calling for help, or waving their arms. In reality, drowning is swift and silent. There is often no struggle or splashing, no cry for help. Many child drownings occur in the presence of other children or adults.

Young children can drown in just a few inches of water. Children under 1 year old most commonly drown in buckets, toilets, wading pools, and bathtubs. Children ages 1-4 years most often drown in backyard swimming pools, and adolescents most commonly drown in natural bodies of water.

Alcohol is involved in 25-50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat. Many adolescent and adults who drown did not know how to swim.

In 2011, there were 40 unintentional drowning deaths among Massachusetts residents and an additional 148 nonfatal near-drowning cases among Massachusetts residents that required treatment at a Massachusetts acute care hospital. Drowning was the leading cause of unintentional injury death among Massachusetts children 0-14 years in 2011.


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