Shallow water blackouts can lead to drowning

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MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – As you walk into the Hampden Township pool, there is a warning sign that reads “no breath holding or prolonged underwater swimming.”

“The reason we have that there is extended breath holding can lead to shallow water blackout. We try and have that signage to inform the public and be aware of that,” pool manager Jeremy Mortorff said. “Our guards are also trained to look for people who may be doing breath-holding contests.”

Shallow water blackout can happen when you try to stay underwater too long.

“If you take a bunch of deep breaths before you go down underwater, you empty all of the carbon dioxide, which is the waste product out of your lungs, and then it does not build up fast enough to start your reflex to breathe,” said Dr. Dan Bledsoe, an emergency physician at PinnacleHealth. “By the time you hit the level of carbon dioxide necessary to make you breathe, you have passed out underwater, then you’re unconscious underwater and you cannot help yourself and you drown.”

Bledsoe says there is a growing awareness of this in the medical field, but it is unclear how many deaths have been caused by shallow water blackouts.

“There is not really good statistics on how many of those 3,500 people that drown a year did it from breath holding or did it from injuring themselves or just because they couldn’t swim and ran out of energy,” Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe says parents should encourage kids not hyperventilate before going underwater and never let them swim alone.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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