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What Is Underwater Blackout?

What Is Underwater Blackout?
Christian J. Amendt

At public and private pools across California this summer, countless kids are likely to play breath-holding games. With these games, young ones see how long they can stay beneath the surface of the water without coming up for air. Regrettably, breath-holding games can lead to catastrophic injuries or even death.

Underwater blackout happens when a person faints in the water due to a lack of oxygen. Because the condition puts individuals at risk of drowning, parents should discourage children from playing breath-holding games when enjoying swimming pools.

Brain confusion

Before attempting to hold their breaths underwater, children may take several quicks breaths in and out. Hyperventilation reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the body. Because the brain signals the lungs to breathe when carbon dioxide levels are high, low levels may trick the brain into thinking a body has enough oxygen to stay underwater when the opposite is true.

Basic physics

Some kids naturally float better than others. Still, as children exhale under the water, they decrease the air inside their lungs. Basic physics dictates that diminished air may cause a body to sink. Consequently, a child who is experiencing underwater blackout may not float to the surface where he or she can breathe usable air.


Breathing is an automatic function. When individuals faint on dry land, they typically continue to breathe naturally. The same is true when fainting occurs beneath the surface of the water. Unfortunately, though, when a person breathes underwater, water enters the lungs instead of oxygen.

While there are different stages of drowning, death may happen in just a few minutes. Brain damage may occur even earlier. Ultimately, lifeguards must know both how to identify underwater blackout and how to rescue children who are suffering from it.

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