Can you drown in a bathtub?
Can you drown in a bath tub? Yes. Is it common? Depends on your age and overall health.
An average of 87 children under the age of 5 drown at home each year, and 80 percent of those deaths happen in a tub, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Adult tub drowning data is not as readily available, but there are some documented cases.
Even if the accident does not turn out to be fatal, it can lead to brain damage, which can cause memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic functioning, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“Children can drown in as little as one inch of water, and they often don’t make a sound,” says Dr. Galen Harnden, a pediatrician with Advocate Children’s Medical Group who cautions children under the age of 6 should never be allowed to bathe alone, and even those 6 and older should be closely monitored. “Babies and toddlers don’t have the upper body and core strength to lift themselves up if they slip under the water,” she says.
“Whenever you are giving a child a bath, keep your baby within arms’ reach, do not leave them alone, or with young siblings, to retrieve something, take a phone call or answer the door,” says Dr. Harnden. “If you need to leave your spot by the tub, pick the child up, wrap them in a towel and resume the bath when you can devote your full attention.”
In fact, Dr. Harnden says not to let young children play in the bathroom unsupervised and to always leave the toilet lid down, as children have drowned in toilets, as well.
While children often drown because of lack of adult supervision, adults who drown in places like bathtubs or hot tubs are often under the influence of depressant drugs or alcohol, which can impair balance, coordination and judgment or because they have seizure disorders or other preexisting medical conditions.
“Adults can fall, hit their head, lose consciousness and drown or fall asleep/pass out and drown,” says geriatric medicine specialist Dr. William D. Rhoades with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Underlying health issues, such as circulatory disease, cardiovascular disease and epilepsy can contribute to a loss of consciousness and subsequent drowning, especially in those over the age of 65.”
Those with seizure disorders need to be especially cautious when taking baths. According to the CDC, for those with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, and the bathtub is the location where most of these accidental drownings occur.
“While baths are not something to typically avoid, know your health history, and base your decisions from there,” Dr. Rhoades says.
Dr. Rhoades says it’s also important to install adhesive traction stickers in the tub and non-slip padded mats around the tub to help prevent and break falls if they happen, as well as safety rails for those who are more prone to falling, like the elderly.
About the Author
Kate Eller, health enews contributor, is a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations. She came to Chicago and Advocate Health Care in 2014 after living in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking” around Chicago while taking photos for Instagram.