Some cities in the U. S. are banning prolonged breath-holding under water after shallow-water blackouts have caused deaths. The phenomenon causes otherwise healthy swimmers to become unconscious while under water.
The proposed bans come after a recent spate of deaths from the practice. And we all can remember the breath-holding contests when we were growing up. However, critics say the bans won’t work because there is no way for lifeguards to detect such subtle but potentially deadly behavior.
The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a study on shallow-water blackout. The mysterious practice has claimed the lives of many swimmers, yet swim coaches, parents and lifeguards are largely unaware of it.
Some states are already putting up warning signs forbidding prolonged breath-holding. It is part of a movement to raise awareness of the deadly practice that has killed accomplished swimmers. One such death involved a teenager who died in less than four feet of water while preparing for U. S. Navy SEAL training.
Shallow-water blackout happens when a person tries to swim under water for an extraordinarily lengthy amount of time during endurance training.
Here is how it happens: Swimmers start by taking multiple long breaths to go a longer distance under water. This causes blood levels of carbon dioxide to plunge. Once under water carbon dioxide levels fail to rise quickly enough to signal the brain to breathe, oxygen levels fall rapidly, the swimmer faints under water and dies.
Doctors say that because the swimmer has a low oxygen level at the time of fainting, brain damage occurs within a couple of minutes, and death is then very likely.
An Atlanta physician, Dr. Rhonda Milner learned of the phenomenon the hard way. Her 25-year old son died in their backyard pool while breath holding to train for spear fishing. Dr. Milner founded Shallow Water Blackout Prevention to raise awareness of the problem.
Raising awareness will at least give lifeguards the education to know what to look for while on duty. And we can all help by being aware that something so simple can be very deadly.