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CDC Warns Against ‘Dangerous Breath Holding’ in Water

Even seasoned athletes are drowning because of dangerous underwater behaviors, agency says

THURSDAY, May 21, 2015 (HealthDay News) — U.S. health officials are warning about accidental drownings from underwater breath-holding games and exercises.

Breath-holding contests are a common cause of this type of drowning, health officials said in the May 22 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Swimmers submerge and try to hold their breath for as long as possible, usually remaining motionless. The CDC report detailed three deaths that occurred in New York state due to dangerous breath-holding exercises.

In one case, two advanced-level swimmers drowned while performing strenuous exercises to prepare for a military fitness test. After alternating between push-ups and swimming laps, the two began intentionally hyperventilating and holding their breath underwater. Minutes later, they were found submerged and motionless. In the other incident, a healthy lifeguard drowned while performing breath-holding exercises and underwater lap swimming, as part of training to join the Navy SEALs. He repeatedly submerged himself for extended periods of time, until he was found unconscious. Efforts to resuscitate him failed.

Those three deaths were among 16 New York cases between 1988 and 2011 of otherwise healthy people losing consciousness underwater as a result of holding their breath for too long. In all, four people died. Ages of the swimmers ranged from 7 to 47 years old, and most were male, officials said. All but one of the 16 incidents occurred at a pool, and more than half occurred with other swimmers present. Moreover, a lifeguard was on duty at all but one of the pool accidents.

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