Chest | General Practice | Drowning (Symptom)


Drowning is a common cause of death and disability. Death caused by suffocation and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) associated with immersion in a fluid. Most often, the person inhales liquid into the lungs; sometimes, no liquid enters the lungs, a condition called dry drowning. Near drowning is the survival of a drowning event involving unconsciousness or water inhalation and can lead to serious secondary complications, including death, after the event.


Drowning occurs when water comes into contact with the larynx (voice box). After an initial gasp, there is an initial voluntary breath holding. This is followed by spasm of the larynx and the development of hypoxemia or decreased levels of oxygen in the bloodstream. Lack of oxygen causes aerobic metabolism to stop, and the body becomes acidotic. If not corrected quickly, the lack of oxygen in combination with too much acid may lead to problems with the electrical conduction system of the heart (cardiac arrest) and lack of blood supply to the brain. As body function declines, the larynx may relax and allow water to enter the lungs.

Experts differentiate between distress and drowning. People in trouble and distress still have the ability to keep afloat, signal for help and take actions. In case pf drowning people are suffocating and are in imminent danger of death within seconds.

Drowning falls into two categories: passive drowning (people who suddenly sink or have sunk due to a change in their circumstances and active drowning (people such as non-swimmers and the exhausted or hypothermic at the surface, who are unable to hold their mouth above water and are suffocating due to lack of air).