Underwater blackout a dangerous game

Posted: 06/30/2011 in all marine news

Gracie Bonds Staples – 

In honesty, holding one’s breath while underwater has been a common pool game for years. Competitive swimmers indulged in the practice as a training regime even before there were swimming pools.

But with the mercury regularly surpassing the 90-degree mark and parents and children seeking ways to keep cool, this and other pool safety concerns are rising back to the surface again.

“It happens but it is strictly forbidden in our pools,” said Christine Kinsella, aquatic coordinator for the northern half of Gwinnett County.

Kinsella and other aquatic directors say they are keenly aware of the growing interest in the breathing game, also known as underwater blackout or shallow water blackout, and are taking steps to address it in staff training. Both their lifeguarding books and Red Cross training material address the practice.

While it’s hard to gauge how widespread this practice is or what its impact has been, nearly 400 children under the age of 15 die annually in pool- and spa-related drownings Another 4,200 are treated for submersion injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Despite the dangers associated with breath-holding, some worry that educational efforts have been too spotty. And although training materials from the American Red Cross and the YMCA, for instance, mention the dangers of breath-holding, few if any facilities post signs warning against the practice and there is still little public awareness of the dangers associated with underwater swimming or breath-holding.

Talking to parents about the phenomenon is like breathing life into an old story. They did it when they were growing up, they said with a twinkle in their eyes. But never to the point of blacking out, they add.

“I wanted to keep swimming,” said Vanessa Baumann, while taking a break with her 4-year-old daughter poolside at the Bethesda Aquatic Center in Lawrenceville.

Steve O’Neill, father of 8- and 14-year-old sons and recreation coordinator for the West Cobb Aquatic Center in Powder Springs, said that five years ago he used to catch kids doing this a lot.

“You’d hear, ‘One, two, three, go,’ and they’d jump in the water holding their noses,” he said. “But not so much now.”

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