Drowning (cont.)

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What are the complications of drowning?

  • Hypoxemia causing brain damage is the major complication in drowning victims who do not die.
  • Direct lung tissue damage caused by water aspirated into the lung can also occur and may lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
  • If the drowning occurs in colder water, there is the risk of hypothermia or a drop in core body temperature.
  • Drowning may occur as a consequence of injury or illness. For example, cervical spine fractures (broken neck) due to diving injuries may result in breathing problems and subsequent drowning. Drowning can occur as a result of syncope or loss of consciousness in the water, due to a variety of medical conditions including heart attack and seizure.

Does the type of drowning matter?

There have been a variety of theories reported regarding the potential responses of the body to different drowning situations. Most discuss dry vs. wet drowning and salt vs. fresh water drowning.

Wet vs. dry drowning

Most drownings are unwitnessed, and the victim is found floating. While only a small amount of aspirated water is required to cause significant problems with lung function, it is the prolonged submersion time and lack of breathing that causes complications due to hypoxemia.

Approximately 10% to 20% of drowning victims have dry drowning with no water found in the lungs at autopsy, but even most wet drowning victims have less than 4cc/kg of water found in their lungs. For a 50 pound child, this amounts to less than 3 ounces of water.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/3/2014

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Drowning - Treatment Question: If you know someone who drowned or nearly drowned, what type of emergency treatment was used?
Drowning - Prevention Question: Do you and your family know how to swim? Are you trained in CPR? Please share your experience.
Drowning - What Happens Question: If you had a near drowning experience, please describe what happened and how it felt.
Drowning - Risk Factors Question: Do you know someone who drowned or nearly drowned? What were her/his risk factors (age, medical condition, etc.)?
Drowning - Water Safety Question: Do you have a pool? Please share suggestions for water safety and how you try to prevent drownings.