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How to Recognize That Someone Is Drowning

It’s often not obvious that a person is drowning. In reality, many people who get into trouble in the water usually lack the strength or time to shout, wave arms or do the usual things that you might think a drowning person would try to do to draw attention. Instead, an involuntary reaction known as the Instinctive Drowning Response kicks in to try and gain air and leverage for the drowning victim, but in a very quiet way that often goes unnoticed by those watching on. For the sake of your own family, friends and community, it’s useful to know how to spot a potentially drowning person in time.

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Understanding the Instinctive Drowning Response

  1. Wipe the Hollywood version of drowning from your memory bank. Television and movie portrayals of drowning tend to overplay the actions of the drowning person, showing shouting, arm waving, splashing and other active means for drawing attention. In reality, drowning happens quickly and often quietly, with most headlines about victims reading “companions/parents failed to notice”. The silent, fast and non-splashing reality of most drownings is due to the “Instinctive Drowning Response”, which causes a drowning person to focus solely on trying to breathe, leaving no time for calling out or arm waving. The person does not usually look as if he or she is drowning to onlookers, and sadly, this reality has resulted in people (especially children) drowning right in front of potential rescuers.
  2. Understand the Instinctive Drowning Response. This response was summarized by Mario Vittone and Francesco A. Pia, PhD in their article “How to Recognize the Instinctive Drowning Response”.[1] The Instinctive Drowning Response will cause the following actions in a drowning person:
    • Breathing as quickly as possible whenever the mouth actually manages to go above water. This means there is no time to shout, only time to breathe as fast as possible. The breathing action takes precedence over any vocal ability.
    • The arms will extend to the sides, in an attempt to try and get above the water. Then the arms will actually press down, to try and gain lift up and out of the water for the mouth to breathe. This doesn’t leave time or energy for waving arms above the head.
    • A drowning person is not in control of his or her motions. The arms and the attempts to breathe are both involuntary actions to save the victim from drowning. This means that there is no time to think about voluntary actions to draw attention to the act of drowning. In fact, this even excludes the ability to voluntarily reach for a piece of rescue gear!
    • If the Instinctive Drowning Response takes over, the drowning person won’t kick to support their body. The body is upright in the water, and the arms are doing all the work to try and stay afloat. Within 20 to 60 seconds, the person will submerge if not rescued.
      Print this image out and take it on vacation; teach everyone on your vacation these signs while in the car/plane/bus on the way to your destination.

      Print this image out and take it on vacation; teach everyone on your vacation these signs while in the car/plane/bus on the way to your destination.


Spotting a Drowning Person

  1. Be able to tell the difference between the Instinctive Drowning Response and Aquatic Distress. While still potentially life threatening and requiring a rescue response, aquatic distress is not involuntary. The person recognizes that he or she is in trouble, is worried about drowning, but at this stage still has the ability to make noise, grab rescue equipment if offered and will likely be kicking to stay afloat. This phase won’t last long but if you can get an object to the victim or get to the victim during this phase, the victim will likely be responsive to the help.

    • Aquatic distress may or may not be visible in children. The reality though, is that children tend to struggle less than adults and may even appear to be doing the “dog paddle”.[2] Don’t be lulled into expecting a child to make any response if he or she is drowning!
  2. Know how to spot a drowning person. Now that you understand the Instinctive Drowning Response, be aware of the following signs that may indicate a person is experiencing it when in the water (note, the depth does not matter, drowning can occur in shallow water as much as in deep water):
    • The victim’s head is constantly low in the water and his or her mouth stays at water level
    • The head may be tilted backward, with the mouth open
    • The eyes may be glassy, empty-looking and failing to focus; or, they may be closed
    • Hair may flop over the face, forehead, eyes (and the victim makes no attempt to remove it)
    • The victim fails to kick with or move their legs; he or she is vertical (not swimming or floating)
    • The victim may be breathing very quickly (hyperventilating) or gasping for air
    • Attempts to swim may be noticeable but the victim fails to get anywhere
    • The victim may try to roll over on his or her back
    • It may seem as if the person is trying to climb an invisible ladder–-this is the attempt to get above and out of the water
    • The victim is quiet––this is especially relevant to children as most children are noisy during water play
    • Be aware that toddlers/small children are top heavy and may lose their footing very quickly in shallow water (such as wading pool depth), which will cause them to float.[3]


Rescuing a Drowning Person

  1. If you are near a person showing any of the above signs, talk to them. Ask quickly: “Are you all right?” An answer will mean that they are probably okay, although they may be panicking and you can still go to their aid. No answer, a blank stare or continuation of any of the actions from the above list mean that you need to respond immediately to get them to safety, within 30 seconds.

    • Even if the person seems to be treading water and looking up at you, ask them if they are they okay. This upright state is a classic position prior to submerging!
    • Put safety before concerns about embarrassment, offense or inconvenience. It is better to seem overly cautious than to avoid asking a simple question.
  2. Rescue the drowning victim. For details on what to do to rescue a drowning person, see further How to save a drowning victim.


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This video shows just how fast and quiet drowning really is.


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  • If you pursue water sports (diving, swimming, water skiing, sailing, etc.), have children under your care, teach or marshal water activities/events, or undertake activities (work or leisure) near or on water, you need to memorize the above signs of a drowning person. This knowledge can mean all the difference between the victim surviving or drowning, and there is a very small window of rescue of time, between 20 to 60 seconds once the person submerges.
  • Be aware of local conditions. Currents, rips, king tides, eddies, snags, etc., are all signs that the water is not safe to enter. If someone has entered with such conditions, help them to get to safety quickly if possible.
  • Be vigilant if you are rescuing people by directing them to get into water. In some situations, you may require people to get into water for their safety, such as when a boat is on fire or sinking, or for similar reasons. In this case, someone must be tasked with keeping an eye on those in the water, especially where shock, panic, injury or illness affects the swimmers. Always try to get life jackets onto people being rescued in such a situation.


Edit Warnings

  • Without fail, always investigate why a child (infant to teen ages) has gone quiet when near or in water. Most children make noise when playing in water, and going quiet (including failing to splash about) is a sign of danger.[4]
  • Fence your pool. If you have a backyard pool, keep it fenced so that children cannot wander in unattended. There is nothing to alert you to a toddler who wanders out the back door of the house while you’re inside and goes into the pool; the fence is your only safety measure.


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Today is National HIV Testing Day. Be safe. How to Recognize HIV Symptoms

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system, destroying a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight off infection and disease. Testing is the only sure way to determine if you have HIV. There are symptoms to look for that could be a warning that you have an advanced infection.


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  1. Watch for the following symptoms:

    • Acute fatigue with no explainable cause.

    • Diarrhea lasting a week or more.

    • Recurrent fever or excessive night sweats.

    • Memory loss, depression, or other neurological afflictions.

    • Swollen glands in the neck, armpits, or groin.

    • Pneumonia.

    • Dry cough.

    • Rapid weight loss with no known cause.

    • Irregular spots (red, brown, pink, or purplish in color) on the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids.

    • White spots or unusual blotches on the tongue, or in the mouth or throat.

    Any of the listed symptoms could be a sign of another illness. If you have any of these signs or symptoms it is not conclusive you have HIV. The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested.
  2. Know if you are at risk. You are at an increased risk if you have:
    • Had unprotected anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

    • Shared needles or syringes.

    • Been diagnosed/treated for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), tuberculosis, or hepatitis.

    • Received a blood transfusion during 1978–1985.

  3. Be tested for HIV. This is the most accurate measure in determining if you have HIV. There are people who have HIV that may show no signs or symptoms for 10 years or more. HIV can be diagnosed before symptoms develop.


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  • Testing is easy, affordable, and reliable (in the majority of cases). The most common test is done through drawing a blood sample. There are also tests that use oral fluids (not saliva) and urine. There are even tests you can take at home. If you do not have a regular physician who can provide testing, contact your local Health Department.
  • If you are tested for HIV, do not let fear prevent you from obtaining your test results. Knowing if you are infected, or not, brings about change in your lifestyle and your way of thinking.
  • HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus. The virus does not live long outside the body.
  • Please get tested if you are doubtful of whether or not you have this illness. It’s only right and safe for you as well as others.
  • If you have used an at-home test kit and the results are positive for the infection, you will be provided referrals for a follow-up test. Do not avoid this follow-up. If you are concerned, make an appointment with your health care provider.


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  • Never pick up a discarded needle or syringe.
  • One fourth of HIV-infected persons in the United States do not know they have the infection.
  • STDs increase the risks of becoming infected with HIV.


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Today is World Parkinson’s Day. Learn how to recognize the signs:

Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which the brain stops producing regular amounts of dopamine, which controls our motor skills and impacts the central nervous system. Those who suffer from it can experience a variety of physical problems, including slower movements and difficulty controlling muscles. Since Parkinson’s disease progresses over time, knowing its signs and symptoms can help you determine if you need to seek treatment and obtain a proper diagnosis. Continue reading to learn how to recognize the signs of Parkinson’s disease.


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  1. Evaluate existing tremors and shakes.

    • Tremors and shakes will usually begin in the limbs such as legs, hands and arms and may eventually lead to tremors of the mouth, lips, chin and fingers.
    • Rubbing your thumb and forefinger together is a common behavior of Parkinson’s disease.
    • Tremors and shakes will usually occur when you are relaxing and sitting down.
    • Shaking is considered normal after exercising or getting injured. In some cases, tremors and shaking can be caused by different types of medication.
  2. Determine if weakness exists in face and throat muscles.
    • Weakening of facial muscles may cause you to drool, cough or choke, especially while eating or talking. Your face may also assume a vacant expression that includes staring or unblinking eyes when you communicate with others.
    • The weakness in your throat will affect your voice to make it softer and monotone, cause excessive slurring and delays before talking.
  3. Look for delayed or slower movements known as bradykinesia.
    • Bradykinesia affects your ability to perform normal tasks at a functional speed, such as standing, walking and rolling over in bed.
    • You may experience episodes of freezing in place while you walk or during other movements.
  4. Note any changes in posture and balance.
    • Low dopamine levels will affect motor skills and cause poor reflexes, leading to a stooped posture and problems with balancing while walking.
    • You may experience frequent falls and begin to take smaller steps while shuffling your feet.
  5. Take note of rigid and stiff muscles.
    • Parkinson’s disease can cause muscle pain and aches anywhere in your body when you move.
    • The most common sign is when you stop swinging your arms while you walk, because the pain is too great.
  6. Look for instant changes in your handwriting.
    • Parkinson’s disease will usually cause smaller and cramped handwriting due to the way tremors, stiffness and coordination affect your hands and fingers.
    • Handwriting may change gradually as you age due to poor vision and various other health conditions, but not instantly as it does with Parkinson’s disease.
  7. Note changes in bladder control and constipation.
    • An early sign of Parkinson’s disease is increased instances of straining while trying to make bowel movements. You may also have problems controlling your bladder and bowels.
    • Constipation may still occur depending on the amount of fiber and water in your diet, but should not continue if you have already taken measures to address the problem.
  8. Analyze your sleeping behavior.
    • Parkinson’s disease may cause violent thrashing and moving around during sleep, including punching and kicking. You may also start to fall out of bed while sleeping.
    • Normal sleeping movements may include “tossing and turning,” but there should not be any violent movements.
  9. Speak to a doctor or health professional if you are suffering from any of these problems to seek treatment and to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.


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