Drowning - First aid and resuscitation

Wednesday 25 February 10:12 AM

 Drowning is a silent killer. Victims may not be able to call for help because they are expending all of their energy trying to breathe or keep their head above water. The second scenario is when water is inhaled - the upper airway or larynx (voice box) may go into a spasm, making it difficult to cry for help.

Once drowning does occur, e.g. water enters the stomach and lungs, the effect of the blood/brain mechanisms are changed.  In general, these cases do not survive and resuscitation efforts would not produce the outcomes that we hope for. The chemical imbalance destroys the ability to survive.

The drowning sequence usually takes this course. The victim struggles to keep his or her head above the water and when the head submerges or drops below the water surface, breath holding occurs. At some stage, water enters the upper airways and it causes the larynx to go into spasm (laryngeal spasm).

This is the time where first aiders have the greatest chance of restoring life, as the rescue breaths help the spasm to relax.  At this stage the victim is not breathing and the spasm usually relaxes and the casualty will probably cough and gag and start breathing on their own.  It is for this reason rescue breaths are recommended as the first aider does not know what type of drowning you are dealing with.

In the early days, they often referred to the different types as dry drowning and wet drowning, but this terminology is no longer used. 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.

For more information on first aid for drowning see: