JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer
Reiling, Assistant Editor.
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.
DROWNING ACCIDENTS.. JAMA. 2005;293(24):3115. doi:10.1001/jama.293.24.3115-a