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- Drowning defined as respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid (1)
- System(s) affected: cardiovascular, nervous, pulmonary, renal
- Synonym(s): submersion injury; terms such as “near-drowning,” “secondary drowning,” and “wet drowning” should be avoided.
- From 2005 to 2014, an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States (2)
- Three age-related peaks: toddlers and young children (1 to 5 years), adolescents and young adults (15 to 25 years), and the elderly
- 80% of people who die from drowning are male (2).
- Greater incidence in minorities; African Americans age 5 to 19 years old are affected 5.5 times more frequently than Caucasians (2).
- Most common injury-related cause of death for children 1 to 4 years in the United States (3)
- For every child age <15 years who dies from drowning, five more children are seen in the emergency room for nonfatal submersion injuries.
Proper water supervision and safety techniques are critical in avoiding morbidity and mortality from drowning.
Etiology and Pathophysiology
Hypoxemia via aspiration and/or reflex laryngospasm causing cerebral hypoxia and multisystem organ involvement
- 10–20% of victims drown without aspiration; likely due to prolonged laryngospasm (previously termed “dry lungs”)
- Bathtub and bucket drowning in children <1 year
- Swimming pool drowning in children and young adults
- Motor vehicle accidents (vehicle submerged in water)
- Head trauma while swimming or diving
- Pulmonary: morbidity primarily caused by hypoxia. Aspiration causes dilution of surfactant with decreased gas transfer across alveoli, atelectasis, development of intrapulmonary right-to-left shunting; acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); obstruction due to laryngospasm and bronchospasm
- Cardiac: hypoxic-ischemic injury and arrhythmia (primary or secondary)
- Renal: acute tubular necrosis from hypoxemia, shock, hemoglobinuria, myoglobinuria
- Neurologic: hypoxic-ischemic brain injury with damage especially to the hippocampus, insular cortex, and basal ganglia; cerebral edema
- Coagulation: hemolysis and coagulopathy
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Inadequate physical barriers surrounding pools
- Alcohol ingestion; male sex
- Low socioeconomic status
- Use of illicit drugs
- Seizure disorder
- Inability to swim
- Hyperventilation prior to underwater swimming
- Boating mishaps and trauma during water sports, particularly when not wearing a life jacket
- Scuba diving
- Inadequate adult supervision of children; lack of appropriate instruction on how to swim
- Concomitant stroke or myocardial infarction (MI)
- Cardiac arrhythmias: familial long QT and polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (VT)
- Periodic education/reinforcement of supervision with an emphasis on drowning prevention for caretakers of young children
- Proper adult supervision of children, particularly around water; pool alarms
- Knowledge of water safety guidelines
- Mandatory physical barriers surrounding pools; four-sided fencing, self-closing gate 58 inches above the ground (2)
- Avoid alcohol or recreational drugs around water.
- Swimming instruction at an early age
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instruction for pool owners and parents
- Boating safety knowledge
- Personal flotation device and rescue equipment (e.g., preserver, if necessary)
Children should never be left alone near water. Young children can drown in very small amounts of water (bathtubs, buckets, and toilets).
Commonly Associated Conditions
- Seizure disorder
- Alcohol or illicit drug use
- Concomitant stroke or MI
- Cardiac arrhythmias: familial long QT and familial polymorphic VT