First Aid in Drowning

Treatment prolonged lack of oxygen from being submerged under water leads to cardiac arrest, so it is important that rescue breathing or CPR (either mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose ventilation) be started immediately – even in the water if necessary.

  • Call 911 for medical assistance and a quick transfer to the nearest emergency center.
  • If you know what happened prior to the accident, tell the rescue workers, particularly if head and neck injuries are likely (as would be the case if the child was diving when the accident occurred). Keep the child warm, especially if he was in cold water. Wrap him in towels or a blanket until medical personnel arrive.

Drowning Prevention

Studies show that 70 percent of drowning accidents could be avoided if self-closing, self-latching doors were installed in homes and on gates in the fences around pools. Sturdy, childproof pool covers and alarms on doors leading to the pool area – or even an alarm that sounds when someone enters the water – are also appropriate safety measures. Parents need to teach their children the importance of swimming only when supervised and the necessity of life jackets when boating. Older children and adolescents should be warned explicitly of the risks of alcohol and/or drug consumption while swimming.

When young children are around water, they must always be supervised by an adult. Parents and teens should strongly consider becoming certified in CPR. Poolside telephones are helpful because they allow adults to answer the phone while continuing supervision. They also can speed the process of calling for help if an accident occurs.

Chances of Surviving Drowning

The chances of surviving submersion are not significantly affected by the type of water (salt, fresh, or pool water with chemicals). How long a child can survive without oxygen depends on many other factors, including age, previous health, the water temperature, and the speed and effectiveness of the rescue effort. Children under age five have an advantage because of a nerve reflex that causes the heart to slow down and blood to be directed to the brain and heart. Younger children usually survive if submersion lasts less than 3 minutes and may survive a submersion lasting up to 10 minutes if the water temperature is 50° to 60°F (10° to 15°C). In general, cold water temperatures improve survival chances.