This is what happens to your body when you hold your breath

How long could you comfortably stay underwater without coming up for air? Thirty seconds? Maybe a couple of minutes? How about 24? That is the current world record for breath-holding held by Alex Segura Vendrell of Spain. Before you get any ideas for your next party trick, it’s important to note that Segura Vendrell is a professional freediver and trained extensively for those 24 minutes and 3.45 seconds.

How is it possible to hold your breath that long?

It turns out that holding one’s breath for an extended period of time, also known as voluntary apnea, is somewhat of an extreme sport in and of itself. Professional divers and competitors train by taking deep breaths before submerging themselves. By holding a big breath before going underwater, a diver is able to push the carbon dioxide out of his or her body, which takes away the body’s natural reaction to come up for air.

Sounds dangerous, right?

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Swim safety tips for parents
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Swim safety tips for parents

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4, after birth defects. 

According to the CDC, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates, with most drowning incidents occurring in home swimming pools. It's estimated that nearly 800 children in the United States die every year from drowning, with two-thirds of these deaths taking place between the months of May through August.  

There are steps parents can take to prevent such occurrences. Read on to learn more essential pool safety tips -- it can save lives.

There should always be a "water watcher" on duty

Since a drowning can occur in as little as 25 seconds, adults must never leave a child alone in a pool and must always be at arms reach. Turning away for even a second can increase the risk of drowning. Water watchers should not be on their phones and should be hyperaware, even if a lifeguard is present. There is no room for distraction, even if many adults are present. 

"Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than 5 minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time," the CDC says.

According to Parents, in 9 out of 10 drownings, parents say they had been supervising at the time.

Pools should be surrounded by fences 

“Many of these deaths occur when children are not expected to be swimming or when they have unanticipated access to water. Toddlers are naturally curious; that’s why we must implement other strategies, such as pool fencing and door locks," says Dr. Sarah Denny, from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

"A four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing," writes the CDC. The fences should be at least four feet high and the latch should be at least 54 inches from the ground. Tip: Toys should be kept out of the pool when not in use so kids aren't as tempted to enter the pool area. 

Some parents install a pool alarm for extra precaution, but the device doesn't replace parental supervision. 

Formal swimming lessons are essential 

According to reports, swimming lessons can help reduce the risk of drowning in children aged one to four by 88 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't suggest swim lessons for children under 1-year-old and factors such as his or her comfortability in the water to physical statuses will play a part in choosing when and which program is best. 

It's important to note that lessons, while beneficial, don't "drown proof" a child. According to the AAP, children's basic swim skills should include "ability to enter the water, surface, turn around, propel oneself for at least 25 yards, float on or tread water, and exit the water."

Drowning isn't like the movies 

Unlike what is portrayed in the movies, drowning can be silent: No splashing, no kicking, no yelling. It's quick, and can only take as little as 25 seconds for a child to drown. That's why it's important for parents and supervisors to be vigilant and hyperaware. 

"Toddlers don't yell or splash, and they sink fast," warns Dr. Steven Kernie to Parents

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How long is it safe to hold your breath?

According to the Canadian Red Cross, most healthy adults can comfortably hold their breath for about one to two minutes. Anything beyond this is dangerous and should be avoided and can put you at risk for drowning, even in shallow water. Breath-holding underwater is just one of the things lifeguards wish you wouldn’t do. Here are just a few of the processes going on in the body when you hold your breath.

Your oxygen levels go down

Without fresh oxygen coming into our bodies, the oxygen saturation level of our blood goes down. This means that our brain and organs do not receive the oxygen they need to function. When our brains begin to become hypoxic, the first symptoms are a feeling of confusion, altered decision making, and loss of coordination.

Your carbon dioxide levels (should) go up

If you were to hold your breath right now, your blood’s oxygen level would start to decrease and its carbon dioxide level would go up. Our bodies release carbon dioxide when we exhale, so as we hold our breath, it builds up and causes us to feel the urge to take another breath. However, this increase in carbon dioxide doesn’t always happen underwater.

A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that when divers intentionally hyperventilate or exercise before going underwater, their carbon dioxide levels are slower to go up. This can put the diver at risk of passing out before feeling the need to come up for air.

You could be at risk for brain damage

A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that when divers held their breath for extended periods of time, they had higher levels of the protein S100B in their bloodstream. This protein is a marker for brain damage; fortunately, the increased level was temporary and went back to normal once they started breathing again.

“The results indicate that prolonged, voluntary apnea affects the integrity of the central nervous system, and may have cumulative effects,” explained the researchers. It’s unclear if people who regularly hold their breath, such as divers, are at risk for long term damage.

You could lose coordination

The study in the Journal of Applied Physiology also found that divers had higher levels of lactate in their blood while holding their breath. Lactic acid is what builds up in your muscles during a long run or intense workout and can lead to cramping, soreness, and loss of coordination. Seeing this increase in the bloodstream means that the muscles are not receiving enough oxygen. Learn more obscure body facts you didn’t know.

Your blood sugar goes up

Holding your breath for too long can cause your blood sugar to jump. Researchers found that blood glucose levels were higher in divers when holding their breath. It’s unclear why blood sugar rises when the body is deprived of oxygen, but it may be related to our body’s inability to secrete insulin during that time.

 Your heart rate slows down

When our bodies are deprived of oxygen, the heart can’t pump fresh, oxygenated blood out to the body. Studies show that about 30 seconds of breath-holding can lead to a lowered heart rate and lower cardiac output.

Your blood pressure goes up

Once your body’s heart rate goes down during breath-holding, it tries to compensate by raising your blood pressure to get blood pumped to the body. This happens as our blood vessels constrict. This blood pressure increase usually happens after three minutes of breath-holding, once the oxygen level in our blood starts dropping.

You could pass out

The dangerous risk of holding your breath underwater is the chance of passing out in the water. According to experts at Emory, when children hold their breath underwater, the pressure in their chests causes their blood vessels to cut off blood flow to the right side of the heart. When this happens, the heart can’t pump blood, which leads to the reflex to faint. Adults who hold their breath for extended periods underwater are also at risk of passing out.

Stay safe around water

Because of accidental drownings related to healthy children and adults holding their breath underwater, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend never practicing voluntary apnea. Be sure to teach your kids to stay safe when swimming and never play breath-holding games with friends.

More safety tips everyone should know below:

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Fire safety tips
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Fire safety tips

Keep smoke detectors in each floor of your home, make sure the batteries are replaced periodically and the entire unit replaced every 10 years. 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Keep at least one carbon monoxide alarm in your home and replace the unit every 5-7 years. 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Make sure any young children in your home are educated about fire safety

(Photo: Getty Images)

Create a fire escape plan

(Photo: Getty)

Keep flammable items away from heat sources, such as windows, space heaters and baseboard heating. 

(Photo: Getty Images)

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