Drowning occurs when normal air exchange in the lungs is prevented. This can happen when a person's nose and mouth are under the surface of a liquid, or when a person's face comes in contact liquid.



Drowning is caused by breathing problems because of liquid, such as water. At first, the person will hold his or her breath. Eventually, the person will no longer be able to hold it. The liquid will flow into the lungs. This liquid will not allow the normal gas exchange in the lungs to happen.


Risk Factors  

Risk factors that increase your chances of drowning include:

  • Use of drugs or alcohol prior to incident
  • Not knowing how to swim
  • Rough play or unsafe diving resulting in trauma
  • Risk-taking behavior around pools or other bodies of water
  • Being in a body of water and having a prior medical condition, such as seizures, fainting, cardiac conditions, or hypoglycemia.

Children are most often the victims of drowning. The following factors increase a child’s risk of drowning:

  • Not knowing how to swim
  • Having an unfenced pool or spa in the home
  • Among children less than one year old, the most common risk factor for drowning is being left in a bathtub unattended, even for a few minutes


Symptoms of drowning may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Being unconscious
  • Inability to breathe
  • Gasping for breath
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Blue skin due to lack of oxygen

In some people, breathing problems may not happen until several hours after a drowning accident.

Brain Damage from Lack of Oxygen  
Brain Damage Oxygen

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A drowning injury will be diagnosed based on the events and the person's symptoms. A physical exam will be done.

Images may be needed of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Your doctor may need to test your body's oxygen levels. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Oximetry


Treatment will depend on how badly the drowning episode damaged the body. Treatment options include:

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)  

CPR is done to provide oxygen-rich air to the vital organs of the body. This may involve giving rescue breaths or doing chest compressions. In all unconscious people and those who have been diving, the head and neck should be supported in case of injuries to the spine.

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