Friday, September 20, 2013

Do You Know the Definition of Drowning?

There's a problem with the definition of drowning. The problem is that most people aren't using the correct definition.

This past August, when Usher's son was rescued from being entrapped in a pool drain, the incident was reported by the media as a near-drowning. This sort of media lingo occurs almost every time a nonfatal drowning occurs. The misuse drowning terminology in the news is not so much the fault of the media outlets as it is those who are reporting these incidents - health and water safety professionals.  

So what's the big deal with using phrases like near drowning? It's not so much about word preferences as as it's about data collection. We know that drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children, and that drowning is a public health problem worldwide, but we don't actually know how much of a problem it is. The reason we don't know the actual prevalence of this issue is because not every drowning is reported, because not every incident is considered a drowning. In order to have a better understanding of the prevalence of drowning, it's helpful to include all relevant, whether fatal or not. Nonfatal drownings are often underreported or not reported all.  A comprehensive definition of drowning means eliminating the notion that drownings can nearly happen. 

In 2005 the World Health Organization used the consensus of health professionals to provide a clear definition of drowning. As a result, drowning is defined as
"the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid."
With this definition it is impossible to nearly drown. To account differences in incidents, the WHO has designated drowning outcome classifications as: death, morbidity, no morbidity. 

This uniform definition of drowning will help give us a better understanding of the worldwide prevalence of drowning, whether fatal or nonfatal. This definition is only useful when it's applied, though. As professionals, we can lead the way to better  drowning surveillance by incorporating the WHO's definition of drowning and educating others to do so as well. 

For the full paper on the process of defining drowning, review this Policy and Practice paper by the WHO. 

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