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First Aid for Near Drowning

Last updated March 2, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Near Drowning, by definition, is a condition when the affected individual nearly drowned in water (or liquid), but survived the incident for a period of 24 hours or more. This condition is commonly reported in young children and young adults.

What is Near Drowning?

  • Near Drowning, by definition, is a condition when the affected individual nearly drowned in water (or liquid), but survived the incident for a period of 24 hours or more. This condition is commonly reported in young children and young adults
  • Following the incident, urgent medical care and support must be provided to the victim, to ensure complete recovery, since the body may have been without oxygen for a certain period of time 

What are the Causes of Near Drowning?

Near Drowning may be caused due to the following:

  • Falling accidentally into water (seas, lakes, rivers, or swimming pools)
  • Intentional drowning (suicide attempts)
  • Individuals, who are trying to learn to swim, moving to the deeper end of a swimming pool or lake
  • Individuals who are swimming or participating in water sports meeting with accidents
  • Having a medical condition such as heart attack, seizure, or an allergic reaction, while swimming on water or on a boat
  • Drinking alcohol and attempting to play in water or swim
  • Children and babies who have been left unattended near water bodies; the incident can also take place in bathrooms (bathtubs, buckets), baby pools, fountains, etc.
  • Walking on thin ice

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Near Drowning?

The signs and symptoms of Near Drowning include:

  • Difficulty breathing; noisy breathing
  • Chest pain and cough
  • Face, lips, and skin turning blue
  • Swollen abdomen from swallowing water
  • Neurological symptoms including confusion, irritability, restlessness, become panicky
  • Infants may have a weak cry, noisy breathing, breathing difficulty, and changes in skin color
  • Loss of consciousness, fainting

How is First Aid administered for Near Drowning?

First aid tips for Near Drowning:

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number)
  • If the individual is still in water, and:
    • If you have received adequate training on rescuing individuals who are drowning, then try to rescue the affected individual as soon as possible
    • If available, use life jackets, rubber rings, or rope to help the drowning victim
    • If the individual who is drowning can be safely pulled out, attempt to remove the individual (such as by using a long piece of cloth, pole, or a tree branch)
  • If the individual is unable to breathe or is not breathing, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • Attend to any injuries, bleeding from wounds, remove wet (cold) clothes, and keep the individual warm

Who should administer First Aid for Near Drowning?

Any person near the affected individual should administer First Aid immediately. All Near Drowning cases should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional, as early as possible.

What is the Prognosis of Near Drowning?

  • The prognosis of Near Drowning is dependent on how quickly the individual was rescued from water and breathing support provided or breathing revived, since an obstruction for extended periods will result in a reduced oxygen supply to the brain
  • Individuals, who have been severely affected may show complications including pneumonia, respiratory distress, and brain damage that may even be permanent. In children, this may lead to a guarded prognosis
  • If the individual can recover well within the next 24 hours, then the outcome is generally encouraging

How can Near Drowning be Prevented?

Near Drowning may be prevented by the following measures:

  • Keep small children away from waterbodies; or supervise them appropriately when they are in water (such as near pools, bathtubs)
  • Avoid entering waterbodies when in an inebriated state, if you are having any underlying disorder, or are prone to seizures
  • Avoid walking on thin ice (over waterbodies)
  • Observe pool safety regulations
  • Fence pool areas suitably and set time limits for use of the same
  • Always ensure adult supervision when children are in water/pool
  • Ensure that basic safety personnel and equipment/gear is available nearby, in case of an accident near swimming pools, on beaches, etc.

Note: Individuals, who are drowning cannot generally shout for help. They may be seen to be making random moves on water, submerging and appearing, or flailing their arms.

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately
  • DO NOT enter water to rescue the drowning individual, if you are NOT adequately trained to do so

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 28, 2017
Last updated: March 2, 2018