A near drowning, also called a non-fatal drowning, occurs when a person has almost died as a result of being submerged in liquid. Though victims of near drowning do not die, in severe situations, they can suffer brain damage. In many cases, a non-fatal drowning can also result in hypothermia, organ damage, unconsciousness, or hypoxia, which is a condition caused by low blood oxygen. If drowning is suspected, immediate medical attention by a certified individual is essential and could save a person’s life.
Many cases of near drowning are avoidable, and most often, victims are children under five and men between the ages of 15-25. In the case of children, the victim most likely has not been adequately supervised around a body of water. While swimming pools are likely culprits, even a shallow bathtub or a bucket of water can serve as agents of drowning. In the case of young men, alcohol or drug use may be a factor. A near drowning can also occur if there was a condition, such as a person hitting his head or having a seizure, that affected his ability to swim.
Hypoxia is one medical condition that can be caused by a near drowning. When a person has been submerged for a period of time, he could start to inhale liquid, interrupting the body’s natural exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Low blood oxygen can cause organ damage because these structures cannot obtain the oxygen needed to survive. Hypoxia can also cause brain damage. The amount of damage that can occur depends on the amount of time a person has spent submerged.
Although a serious condition that requires medical attention, hypothermia can actually help save a person from hypoxia. Hypothermia is the term given to low body temperature. Below a certain temperature, the body cannot function properly and organs can stop working. Being submerged in cold water can induce the body’s diver’s reflex, however, and can help to stave off the effects of low blood oxygen. The diver’s reflex is a condition in which the heart rate drops, meaning the body requires less oxygen, and blood is diverted from the extremities to the core organs in order to keep them functioning.
Although unconsciousness is another symptom of near drowning, a person may also be conscious when being pulled out of the water. Even so, consciousness doesn’t always mean that he is not in danger. If a person is conscious, but shows signs of confusion, irritability, or is sluggish, immediate medical attention may be warranted. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be of the utmost importance to a victim of a near drowning. Contacting the appropriate medical professionals is also essential in helping to save his life.
Many times, the symptoms of near drowning do not appear for several hours, and so medical professionals may rush the victim to the hospital even if there are no symptoms. Once there, he may be kept overnight for observation. While at the hospital, he may be given tests to determine blood oxygen levels and to check for other problems. Medical professionals may also treat a victim for hypothermia by trying to bring his body temperature back up to normal. If breathing is an issue, a victim may also be connected to a respirator.