This thread about swimming underwater highlighted a little known danger associated with it. Swimming underwater is something that I do on occasions for fun and to test my limits. I did not know, however, that there’s a term for the breath-holding that can cause drowning: Shallow Water Blackout
I recently became aware of this term after a 13-year-old boy drowned who was friends with my nephews. The deceased was one of the best swimmers and best all-around athlete in his school. The deceased and his friends were at a lake and they were diving down to the bottom of the lake to hand carry cinder blocks back to shore. It was a lung-busting contest and something that they had seen in the surfing movie “Blue Crush” and the Kevin Costner movie “The Guardian.” It was something that I would of have done at their age.
Needless to say, my nephews are totally perplexed at their friend’s death and SWB makes no sense to them. They can’t grasp why their friend just didn’t surface to get some air since he was in less than six feet of water. It was something that he had done numerous times. Everyone thought he might have had an undiagnosed medical condition that contributed to this death, but the medical examiner found no such condition.
Shallow water blackout is an underwater “faint” due to lack of oxygen to the brain.* It is brought on by holding your breath for long periods of time with no resting.* Without the body’s cues to breathe the swimmer simply faints while under water.* There is no warning, and severe injury and death happen very quickly. SWB is most common among physically fit swimmers, competitive swimmers, and athletes who seek to hold their breath for long periods of time such a spear fisherman and free divers.* Children are at risk when they play breath-holding games or participate in competitive water sports. It is extremely hard to detect from the water’s surface.* Victims simply slip away with no warning and no noise.
*Steps to prevent SWB:
– Never swim alone
– Never ignore the urge to breathe
– Never hyperventilate before swimming
– Never play breath-holding games
– Remember the term “One breath, one lap, one time, rest.”