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Drowning (cont.)

Drowning Treatment

The treatment for a possible drowning is a first aid emergency. Often, once the victim has been removed from the water, CPR may be necessary and emergency medical services should be activated (call 911).

Drowning Self-Care at Home

In a drowning emergency, the sooner the victim is removed from the water and first aid is administered, the greater opportunity the victim has for surviving.

First aid for a drowning victim

The focus of the first aid for a drowning victim in the water is to get oxygen into the lungs. Depending upon the circumstances, if there is concern that a neck injury is a possibility (for example, a diving accident) care should be taken to minimize movement of the neck.

When assessing a drowning victim, the first steps for care follow the initial American Heart Association guidelines.

  • Is the victim awake?
  • Are they breathing on their own?
  • Do they have a heartbeat?

Rescue breathing can begin in the water, but all other care requires that the victim be safely out of the water. If other people are available, send person to get help and call 911. Send another person to get an automated external defibrillator (AED).

If the victim is breathing, he or she should be placed on their side in the recovery position to prevent potential aspiration should vomiting occur (inhaling vomit into the lung).

If the victim is not breathing and has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This is one of the exceptions to the hands-only CPR guidelines. If possible, rescue breathing needs to be initiated in a possible drowning victim.

There are some controversies in medical research that potentially might confuse bystanders who are willing to help. It is important to remember that a drowning victim who is not breathing and does not have a pulse is effectively dead, and any attempts at helping are appropriate.

Recently, chest compression only resuscitation has been endorsed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, and rescue breathing is not recommended. This is not the case with drowning, since the initial insult to the body is lack of oxygen. This requires providing oxygen to the victim as soon as possible. This is a different situation than a patient who collapses on dry land, usually has a heart rhythm disturbance and adequate oxygen levels are present in the blood for a few minutes.

It usually is recommended to start rewarming drowning victims by removing wet clothing and covering them in warm blankets. This is appropriate if the patient who has not lost their pulse, or has been resuscitated and is awake.

For a potential drowning victim who was administered CPR, and the pulse has returned, but is still not awake, keeping the patient cool may be appropriate.

More research is required to determine what new approaches might be applicable to effectively treat drowning victims.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/26/2015

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