When a person is drowning, the air passages close to prevent water from entering the lungs. This also prevents air from entering the lungs, thus depriving the victim of oxygen and eventually leading to unconsciousness and death. Usually, only if the victim has been unconscious in the water for some time do the lungs fill up with water. More commonly, the water goes into the stomach.
A secondary risk for the rescued person is that he or she may choke on vomit as water in the stomach forces the stomach contents upward. A near-drowning person also faces the risk of hypothermia. Children and young adults are at the greatest risk of drowning.
RESCUING A DROWNING PERSON
As in all first aid, the key rule is to protect yourself. A person who is drowning will strike out and pull down even the most competent swimmer; dirty water can hide dangers such as metal rubbish with sharp edges; and cold water can cause muscles to cramp very quickly.
If possible, reach to the person from the safety using a pole, rope, or buoyancy aid to enable him to help himself out of the water. If in doubt about your ability to rescue the person safely, call for emergency help.
A person who has nearly drowned is very likely to vomit. Maintain a close watch for this. If the victim vomits while you are resuscitating him, turn him toward you, and clear out the mouth before turning him on to the back and resuming rescue breathing. If the victim vomits while in recovery position, clear out the mouth and keep a close eye on breathing to ensure that it has not stopped. If the victim is conscious and become sick encourage him to lean forward and give support while he is vomiting.
Do not make any effort to remove water from the lungs by applying chest compressions or abdominal thrusts. The risk of water in the lungs is minimal, while compressing the chest or stomach will increase the risk of the victim choking on his own vomit.
OF A NEAR-DROWNING VICTIM
Your priority is to ensure an open airway and that the person is breathing.
1. Open the airway by tilting the head, checking the mouth, and lifting the chin. Check for breathing for up to 10 seconds.
2. If the victim is breathing, place into the recovery position.
3. If the victim is not breathing, provide rescue breathing before moving on to an assessment of circulation and full CPR as necessary.
Hypothermia is a lowering of the body’s core temperature and is very common secondary problem of near-drowning. If untreated, hypothermia leads to the breathing and heart rate slowing down and eventually stopping.
To reduce the risk of hypothermia in a case of near-drowning, place the victim on a blanket or layer of coats to insulate him from the ground. Remove wet clothing if you are able to replace it quickly with warm and dry clothing; if not, then cover the wet clothing with blanket and coats. Cover the head to prevent heat loss. Warm the external environment if possible.
Even in a conscious person, hypothermia can be a risk. Seek medical help as soon as possible.