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first aid for near drowning

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Near drowning occurs when a person becomes submerged in a liquid, usually water, making breathing difficult and causing near death or, in some cases, initial survival with the victim dying of related causes more than 24 hours later.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
The signs and symptoms for near drowning are:
  • absence of breathing
  • lethargy or lack of energy
  • coughing
  • confusion
  • cyanosis, or bluish skin
  • abdominal swelling
  • vomiting
  • unconsciousness
  • spitting up water or fluid that is usually pink or frothy
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. Other risk factors include swimming after drinking alcohol.

What can be done to prevent the injury? 
Prevent near drowning by following these guidelines:
  • Don't drink alcohol while boating or swimming.
  • Take a boating safety course.
  • Learn how to swim.
  • Know the sports safety guidelines for summer.
  • Don't swim immediately after eating.
  • Don't allow children to bathe, swim, or play in water without adult supervision.
  • Have the proper floatation devices on boats.
  • Use the proper floatation devices while swimming.
  • Don't 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.
  • Buckets, tubs, and other objects that can hold water should be empty and out of the reach of small children.
  • Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current if you are caught in a rip. Then swim toward the shore.
How is the injury recognised? 
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 floatation 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 15 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 breath independently.
  • If CPR is not needed, change any wet clothing, warm the person, and give first aid for any injuries.
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.

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 is a lack of oxygen for a significant period of time.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 21/1/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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