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Drowning (cont.)

Dry Drowning vs. Wet Drowning

In the drowning sequence, laryngeal spasm occurs by water entering the upper airways. In most drowning cases, the spasm relaxes and water enters the lungs. Historically, this was known as a wet drowning. In 10% to 20% of drowning cases, the laryngeal spasm does not relax and no water enters. This was known as dry drowning. It is now felt that there is no clinical difference between wet and dry drowning and the distinction does not affect patient treatment or outcome.

When to Seek Medical Care

All drowning victims require an emergency 911 call.

Even though the majority of drowning victims are revived with first aid, all these victims require activation of the emergency medical services and evaluation by a health care professional. Complications of the drowning event may take time to develop; it may be hours before signs and symptoms to develop.

Drowning Diagnosis

There are two main issues involved with the care of a drowning victim. The first is to stabilize the ABCs of resuscitation (airway, breathing, circulation) that might be compromised because of the drowning. The second is to look for a potential underlying medical condition that could have caused the drowning to occur.

The initial care is directed to stabilizing the victim's breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure. Once this has occurred, the health care professional will look for common complications of drowning. These include decreased mental function because of lack of oxygen supply to the brain. Lack of oxygen also can damage heart muscle. Lung irritation and infection may occur from water aspirated or inhaled into the lungs. Kidney damage is a common complication in drowning, and may result in electrolyte abnormalities and acid-base disturbances in the body.

If there was an associated trauma, for example a diving injury or a boating accident, evaluation of the head and neck and other parts of the body may be required. Testing that may be ordered depends upon the situation that led to the drowning, the patient's status and any other underlying medical conditions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/26/2015

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