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First Aid For Near Drowning

First Aid For Near Drowning

Alternate Names

  • suffocation


Near drowning occurs when a person becomes submerged in a liquid, usually water, making breathing difficult and causing near death. In some cases, the individual survives initially, only to die of related causes more than 24 hours later.


What are the causes and risks of the injury?

Near drowning is caused by lack of oxygen, whether or not water has entered the lungs. A deep pool of water is not the only drowning hazard. Someone can drown in a very small amount of water if the mouth and nose are covered, preventing the person from breathing.
Individuals at greatest risk for near drowning are those who are very young, very old, unable to swim, or those who tire easily. Many drowning or near-drowning cases are the result of recreational activities, such as boating or swimming. It is more common in areas where swimming pools are common. Unsupervised toddlers, in particular, are prone to near drowning. Other risk factors include swimming after drinking alcohol.


What can be done to prevent the injury?

Prevent near drowning by following these guidelines:
  • Do not drink alcohol while boating or swimming.
  • Take a boating safety course.
  • Learn how to swim. Swimming lessons for young children are very helpful.
  • Know the sports safety guidelines for summer.
  • Do not swim immediately after eating.
  • Do not allow children to bathe, swim, or play in water without adult supervision. It is important to not delegate supervision of young children to older siblings or other older children. Only adults must supervise.
  • Have the proper flotation devices on boats.
  • Use the proper flotation devices while swimming.
  • Do not swim if you start to feel overly tired.
  • Fence all areas where there is water, such as a spa or pool, to keep small children and others from falling in. Make sure the fence has a lock which cannot easily be opened by a young child.
  • Buckets, tubs, and other objects that can hold water should be empty and out of the reach of small children. Some children have been known to drown in a toilet bowl.
  • If you are caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim toward the shore. Be particularly careful in the ocean where there may be strong back currents or an unexpectedly rapid dropoff not far from the beach.


How is the injury recognized?

A drowning victim will usually be spotted panicking at the surface of a body of water. Sometimes the person is found lying in the water or liquid, or on the shore near a large body of water.


What are the treatments for the injury?

First aid for near drowning includes the following steps:
  • Get the drowning person out of the water without placing yourself in danger. Tie a rope to a buoy, life preserver, or other flotation device and throw it to the person. Use the rope to pull them out of the water.
  • In deep water, try to use a boat or other object to reach the victim. Many people who are drowning will panic and pull the rescuer under water.
  • Check for signs of circulation, such as normal breathing, coughing, or movement in response to stimulation.
  • Immediately contact the emergency medical system.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if the person stops breathing. Use 30 chest compressions for every 2 mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths.
  • Stay with the victim and continue CPR until emergency help arrives, or until the person begins to breathe independently.
  • If CPR is not needed, change any wet clothing, warm the person, and give first aid for any injuries.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

If CPR is performed, there can be injury to the chest wall, muscle, and bone during chest compressions. The person may also choke on his or her vomit during CPR and rescue breathing. If the victim does start to vomit, turn the person on his or her side so that the vomit will not block the throat or airway.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

After the person has recovered fully from a near-drowning experience, there are usually no long-term problems. In rare situations, permanent brain damage may result if there has been a lack of oxygen for a significant period of time.

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