Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
According to the World Health Organization, "Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from
submersion/immersion in liquid." The possible outcomes of drowning are
classified as death, morbidity (the development of disability or injury), and no
This relatively simple definition was agreed upon at the 2002 World Congress
of Drowning held in Amsterdam. Prior to that meeting, some definitions and
classifications of drowning were not necessarily well defined, and their
meanings were subject to a variety of interpretations by different countries and
health organizations. While some people still try to sort drowning events into
categories (for example wet vs. dry, primary vs. secondary, fatal vs. non-fatal),
these terms may or may not adequately describe a patient's situation, the
effects of drowning on their body, or the potential outcome.
Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death worldwide,
accounting for 7% of all injury related deaths. Almost 400,000 people die every
year from drowning. This number significantly underestimates the actual number
because they do not include those who drown in floods, boating, or water
transport accidents. Almost half of all drowning in the world occur in China and
The death rate from drowning does not reflect the potential morbidity
(disability) due to brain injury for those who survive a drowning episode. Most
countries do not keep non-fatal drowning statistics.
Drowning occurs when water comes into contact with the
larynx (voice box).
After an initial gasp, there is an initial voluntary breath holding.
followed by spasm of the larynx and the development of hypoxemia (hypo=low +
ox=oxygen + emia=blood), or decreased levels of oxygen in the bloodstream.
of oxygen causes aerobic metabolism to stop, and the body becomes acidotic. If
not corrected quickly, the lack of oxygen in combination with too much acid may
lead to problems with the electrical conduction system of the heart (cardiac
arrest) and lack of blood supply to the brain.
As body function declines, aspiration may occur as the larynx relaxes allowing water to enter the
lungs. However, up to 20% of drowning victims have persistent spasm of the
larynx, and no water is aspirated (this was formerly known as
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 6/19/2013
Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR
As children, most of us heard lots of health advice. Unfortunately, some of
it, however well-intentioned, was medically incorrect. See if you've ever heard
- or believed - any of these common summer health myths.
"Wait a half hour after eating before you can safely go swimming." This one seemed almost universally
accepted when I was a child and is still believed today. The myth involves the
possibility of suffering severe muscle cramping and drowning from swimming on
a full stomach. While it's true that the digestive process does divert the
circulation of the blood toward the
gut and to a certain extent, away from the muscles, the fact is that an
episode of drowning caused by swimming on a full stomach has never been