Drowning Accidents

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Last Medical Review: March 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
Drowning Accidents (March 28, 2020)

If someone is drowning, call for help and call 911. Then try to get the person out of the water. If the person does not breathe, do cardiac rescue while waiting for the ambulance.

When drowning, do cardio-pulmonary resuscitation as usual. The only difference is that you should start by giving 5 breaths as soon as possible, preferably already in the water if you can.

Do this

Call for help. Call 911 or tell someone else to do it.

Get the person out of the water

A person who is drowning in deep water can easily drag you into the depths, even if he is a toddler.

  • See if you can find something to throw to the person they can grab, such as a lifebuoy or a oarsman.
  • If you need to swim out to the person who needs help, you can bring along something that can float and that you can have between you and the person. For example, a lifebuoy or a floating toy, or something nearby, such as a branch or jacket. It can act as a tool to get the person ashore.
  • If the person seems lifeless and does not breathe, you can start with mouth to mouth method already in the water. Do some breathing by squeezing the person’s nose and blowing into his mouth.
  • Usually it is easiest to swim on your back towards land, as you can then hold the person’s head above the water surface.

Examine the person

Place the person on his back. If you see something stuck in the person’s mouth, you can turn their head aside and remove it with your fingers. Check if the person is breathing and showing signs of life by doing the following for a few seconds:

  • Watch for chest and stomach moving.
  • Listen and feel about air flowing in and out of the mouth and nose by placing your ear against the person’s mouth and nose.
  • Check if the person responds to pleasures, swallows or moves.

If the person seems lifeless

If the person has abnormal breathing or no breathing, gray-pale skin and is heavy and limp in the body, immediately start with cardiac resuscitation and continue until the ambulance crew arrives and can take over.

If you are several you can be helped or toured. Don’t be afraid to start cardiac-rescue. It’s better to try than not to do anything at all.

If the person breathes and the heart beats

  • Place the person in stable lateral position .
  • Try to calm the person. For example, if it is a child, you can gently stroke the child on the cheek or back to soothe.
  • A person who has been close to drowning is often quickly chilled. If possible, try to keep the person dry and protect them from cooling by using dry towels or clothes.
  • Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives.

Even if the person seems to feel good and breath themselves, they need to come to hospital.


At the hospital, the person may need to be cared for in an intensive care unit to receive treatment for the injuries that may have occurred in connection with the accident. Various functions such as breathing and heart work are closely monitored.

What happens in the body when drowning?

When you start to get water into your nose and mouth, it often causes spasms in the airways. When the cramp releases, the water starts to flow into the lungs.

It is in the lungs that the blood retrieves its oxygen and then transports it to the rest of the body. If there is water in the lungs, the blood does not get enough oxygen and there is a lack of oxygen in the body. It goes very fast and you become unconscious within a few minutes. After a few more minutes the heart beats slower and it can even stop beating completely.

The lack of oxygen can cause the person to have brain damage. Other injuries that may occur after a drowning accident are disorders of the heart rhythm, pneumonia and kidney damage. Brain damage can be permanent. Other bodies are usually able to recover.

Even if the person who has been drowning seems to feel good after a short while, problems may arise in the form of water from the lungs, so-called pulmonary edema. The person then becomes breathless and worried. A child can also become abnormally tired. You should call 911 if it happens after a drowning accident.

Good to talk to someone afterwards

Being involved in a drowning accident can be very unpleasant. It is important that everyone involved in the accident is allowed to talk about what has happened. In addition to the person who has been close to drowning, for example, parents and siblings can also be helped by talking to a curator or a psychologist at the hospital.

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