Nathalie Smith, MSN, RN
Near-drowning is respiratory impairment from being in or under a liquid. Normal air exchange is prevented by inhaled liquid when a person’s nose and mouth are under the surface of a liquid or when a person’s face comes in contact with liquid.
Near-drowning is caused by liquid, most commonly water, filling the lungs resulting in breathing problems. At first, the person will hold their breath. Eventually, the person will no longer be able to hold it. The liquid will then flow into the lungs. This liquid will not allow the normal gas exchange in the lungs to happen.
Factors that may increase your chance of near-drowning include:
Children are most often the victims of near-drowning. The following factors increase a child’s risk of near-drowning:
Symptoms of near-drowning may include:
In some people,
breathing problems may not happen until several hours after a near-drowning accident.
A near-drowning injury will be diagnosed based on events and symptoms. A physical exam will be done.
Imaging tests can assess bodily structures. These may include:
Your doctor may need to test your body's oxygen levels. This can be done with:
Call for emergency medical services right away. Treatment will depend on how badly the near-drowning episode damaged the body.
Emergency response and first aid must be done quickly to restore breathing and prevent death.
Near-drowning can cause delayed complications from the incident or treatment. Further treatment that is needed depends on what the complications are and their severity.
Complications may include:
To help reduce chance that that you or someone you know will drown:
American Red Cross
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Red Cross
Children’s Safety Association of Canada
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 8, 2013. Accessed November 7, 2014.
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DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Policy statement—Prevention of drowning.
Last reviewed September 2015 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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