Nathalie Smith, MSN, RN
Drowning occurs when normal air exchange in the lungs is prevented. This can happen when a person's nose and mouth are under the surface of a liquid, or when a person's face comes in contact liquid.
Drowning is caused by breathing problems because of liquid, such as water. At first, the person will hold his or her breath. Eventually, the person will no longer be able to hold it. The liquid will flow into the lungs. This liquid will not allow the normal gas exchange in the lungs to happen.
Risk factors that increase your chances of drowning include:
Children are most often the victims of drowning. The following factors increase a child’s risk of drowning:
Symptoms of drowning may include:
In some people,
breathing problems may not happen until several hours after a drowning accident.
A drowning injury will be diagnosed based on the events and the person's symptoms. A physical exam will be done.
Images may be needed of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your doctor may need to test your body's oxygen levels. This can be done with:
Treatment will depend on how badly the drowning episode damaged the body. Treatment options include:
CPR is done to provide oxygen-rich air to the vital organs of the body. This may involve giving rescue breaths or doing chest compressions. In all unconscious people and those who have been diving, the head and neck should be supported in case of injuries to the spine.
Warming treatments can be done if the body's temperature dropped after being in cold water. They are done slowly to avoid further injury to the body.
A narrow tube is placed into the large airways of the lungs to allow mechanical ventilation.
This is a narrow, flexible, plastic tube that is placed through the nose into the stomach. People with drowning injuries may have swallowed a lot of water.
To help reduce chances that that you or someone you know will drown, take the following steps:
American Red Cross
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Paediatric Society
Canadian Red Cross
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2010 May 24. [Epub ahead of print]
Last reviewed August 2014 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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