Float, don’t swim, if you fall in cold water, say academics

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND, UK (AUGUST 09, 2018)(REUTERS) – An academic in the UK says floating rather than swimming if you fall in cold water, saves lives. Research conducted by Professor Mike Tipton, at the University of Portsmouth, says cold water shock response rather than hypothermia, is the main risk of unexpectedly falling in cold water.

Professor Tipton says the reaction causes gasping or uncontrollable breathing and a sudden increase in the workload of the heart and is the cause of up to 60 percent of deaths by drowning in cold water.

“The challenge of course is when you first go into the water you are activated. You want to thrash about, you want to swim, you want to work hard, so it is suppressing that instinct and floating that is the key survival skill in the first minute of cold water immersion,” Tipton told Reuters.

Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at Portsmouth and a world leading expert in cold water shock, collaborated with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) conducting floating trials with over 80 people.

“People think they can’t float. We’ve done studies with the RNLI and the majority of people thought they couldn’t float whereas in fact when we got them to go into the water they could. The majority of them thought that clothing would drag them under the water. They all floated easily when they were wearing clothing and easier still when they were wearing heavy clothing,” he said.

“The take-home messages are when you first go into water fight that instinct to thrash about and swim. Float in the knowledge that you can float. Dont worry about your clothing because that’s helping you float and you do that until te cold shock response dissapears, you’ve got control of your breathing, that’s about one to two minutes and now you are in a much stronger position to call for help, to wave for help or maybe to move through the water to a safer place,” Tipton said.

Associated Links

  • RNLI
  • ThomsonReuters
  • Physiology
  • Wilderness medical emergencies
  • Biology
  • Medicine
  • Chemistry
  • Cryobiology
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Hypothermia
  • Swimming
  • Portsmouth
  • Cold
  • Mike Tipton

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