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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Digging Holes in the Sand - Hidden Beach Dangers

By June 28, 2011

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Digging Holes in the Sand - Photo by Christopher Robbins/Getty ImagesBuilding a sandcastle and digging holes in the sand are common rituals you see at the beach, both for kids and parents.

From toddlers and preschoolers, who might end up with just a pile of sand or a small kiddie hole, to teens who can make very elaborate sandcastles, it can be a lot of fun during a day at the beach.

Few people ever consider that there could be any danger to digging holes in the sand or building sand tunnels though, which are sometimes a part of building larger sandcastles.

That is likely why none of the other teens or adults thought twice when two of the teens on a church group outing started building a sand tunnel that was six feet deep at Sunset State Beach near Santa Cruz, California. Unfortunately, the sand tunnel collapsed, trapping the teens, with one of them ending up in critical condition in a pediatric intensive care unit.

This isn't an isolated event though. Dr. Bradley Maron, a researcher at Harvard, first reported on the dangers of "Sudden Death from Collapsing Sand Holes" in 2007, when he noted at least 31 deaths in the previous 10 years.

Incidents have continued since then, including the death of an 11-year-old at Natural Bridges State Beach in 2008 and a 13-year-old in Galveston, Texas, who was digging a hole in the sand in his backyard. There have been many more incidents where kids were rescued in collapsed holes too.

Understanding this risk of digging in the sand doesn't mean your kids have to give up their bucket and shovel when they hit the beach though. It just means that you should take some safety steps while your kids are digging and playing in the sand. If there is a lifeguard on duty at the beach, they will likely enforce these rules anyway, including that you don't allow kids to dig deeper than their knees. And after your kids are done digging and playing, fill the hole in with sand.

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