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What happens during drowning?
Drowning occurs when water comes into contact with the
larynx (voice box).
After an initial gasp, there is a period of 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