A British teenager jumped into a river on a warm summer day and reportedly drowned due to cold water shock. His mother is now warning others about the dangers of the condition.
On July 5, 2015, 14-year-old Cameron Gosling and his friends decided to go for a swim in the River Wear near Durham, England, the International Journal Review reported. While Cameron's friends waded slowly into the river, he decided to jump right in. The teen never resurfaced.
In spite of his friends' efforts to rescue him, Cameron drowned in the cold river. The teen reportedly died due to cold water shock, a condition that occurs when a person's body is suddenly immersed in water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (For comparison, the water in most swimming pools is about 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Water Fitness Association, Today reported.)
In the first phase of the condition, the blood vessels close upon contact with cold water, causing the heart to pump harder and increasing blood pressure, according to the IJ Review. The victim either dies of a heart attack or drowns due to hyperventilation and panic. The victim may also swallow water as a result of gasping.
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Victims who survive the first phase may still eventually drown due to cold incapacitation, a condition in which their muscles slowly stop working. The entire process of drowning happens very quickly, with the first phase occurring within seconds of the initial contact with cold water and cold incapacitation setting in about 10 minutes later.
"Until we had to live with losing Cam, we had never heard of cold water shock," the teen's mother, Fiona Gosling, wrote in an email to Today. "It's a subject that's not spoken about enough."
In light of her son's death, Fiona is trying to raise public awareness of the condition.
"Don't just jump in," she said in a YouTube video, according to the IJ Review. "If you're going to go in just start with your feet. … Get [your body] ready."
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According to the CDC, an average of 3,500 unintentional drownings occur every year in the U.S., some of which may be attributed to cold water shock.
In 2008, the Coast Guard-funded National Water Safety Congress conducted a research project to test the effects of cold water shock on the human body, Today reported. As part of the project, eight volunteers jumped into 45-degree water. The volunteers gasped water and began to hyperventilate immediately. After only a few minutes, they began to lose the use of their arms and legs as cold incapacitation set in.
"Most people think of hypothermia (drop in body temperature) when they think of cold water, but the reality is that if you don't have a life jacket, you will not live to experience hypothermia — you'll drown or go unconscious first," Paul Newman, a recreational boating safety specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard, told Today.
Newman advised people to always wear a life jacket when swimming in cold water and to try to get to the nearest boat as quickly as possible after experiencing cold water shock.
"In 50-degree water, you might have as little as ten to 15 minutes of manual dexterity, where you should try to get back on your boat or signal for help in some way," he said "If the water is cold, it's only a matter of time before you lose control of your arms and legs."