In this warm and sunny weather, it’s very common for people to decide to cool off by having a swim in inland lakes and rivers. However, this can be fatal, even if they are really good swimmers. So, why this does happen? Yes, the water looks cool and inviting, perhaps even an ideal opportunity to show off to your friends just how good a swimmer you really are.
Yet, as you plunge into the water, you will find it is very cold with an average temperature of 12°C degrees, even during the summer months. Whilst the first couple of metres of water may feel fairly warm, there can be a ‘thermocline’. This is a sudden change from warm to very cold water as low as 5°C degrees, which is a normal temperature for lakes and streams fed by hills or mountains.
If the water is too cold, your body’s first reaction is to go into shock. Your body will spasm and, as a result, you will breathe in, taking water into your lungs. At this stage, it is impossible to hold your breath, so you are breathing in water while trying to stay afloat. If you survive the first few minutes, then your arms and legs are likely to stop working as your body shuts down and you start to sink. Even if you are pulled from the water alive, you are still at high risk as water will have entered your lungs and you could die from ‘secondary drowning’. This is where your lungs are irritated by the water, which start producing fluid, and you drown despite being on dry land.
If people have been drinking, this only makes the situation worse as alcohol suppresses the central nervous system, speeds up your heart rate and makes us feel warm, even when we are not. How many hotels, parks or other venues are you aware of that have lakes within the grounds? Lakes are always an attraction for people attending events or even just for relaxing in the sun with friends while having a few beers.
Do you still think it is a good idea to go for a swim in lakes and rivers without being prepared or knowing whether it is safe to swim? Please warn your children, family, friends and colleagues about the dangers of going for a dip to cool off and maybe we can save a life.