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JAMA 100 Years Ago
June 22/29, 2005


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2005;293(24):3115. doi:10.1001/jama.293.24.3115-a

We are just entering on the season of the year when nearly every morning paper brings the news of a drowning accident. These accidents are mostly the result of carelessness and, as foolishness is a disease, for which unfortunately there is as yet no specific curative serum, they will continue to happen. There are, however, a certain number of these accidents that might be avoided if the necessity for careful precautions was impressed on the minds of individuals who run special risks owing to some readily recognized physical conditions. There are a number of deaths from drowning while bathing in which the victim, though a good swimmer, seems to have been utterly unable to make any effort to save himself. It is usually considered that in these cases there was a simultaneous series of cramplike seizures in various groups of muscles that completely unnerved the swimmer. There is, however, a growing doubt in the minds of many physicians with regard to the acceptance of this explanation. It would seem as though something more serious than cramps were the cause of the helplessness that ensues. Special attention has recently been called to the fact that persons who have been suffering from middle ear disease and who have already had some symptoms of vertigo are more likely to be the victims of these accidents than are others. It seems not improbable that something happens in the semi-circular canals and that this is the reason for the utter helplessness. Swimming is, after all, mainly a balancing feat in the water. The semi-circular canals are the organs of direction, and the maintenance of equilibrium depends on them. If there should be then a sudden hemorrhage even of a very small amount, into this delicate organ (and the possibility of such an accident is never far off amid buffeting waves), the result would surely be serious if the person swimming were at the moment beyond his depth. Persons then who suffer from middle ear disease should be warned not to take risks in swimming beyond their depth, particularly on blustery days, when breaking waves are likely to prove sources of injury to structures that are already not in the best resistive condition.

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