Every time you’re in or near water, whether it’s at a swimming pool, lake, beach, or on a boat, you’re at risk of drowning or near-drowning. And while people who can’t swim are at higher risk of drowning than those who can, even experienced and strong swimmers are at risk of drowning in certain conditions and situations.
Many cities and communities report drownings during the spring and summer, and it can happen to people of all ages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 3,500 drowning deaths in the U.S. every year between 2005 and 2014. That’s roughly 10 deaths every day! Young children are most at risk of drowning, and males constitute 80% of drowning deaths.
Near-Drowning Victims Face Serious Risks
Thankfully, many people are saved from drowning, whether it’s by lifeguards, friends, family members, or nearby Good Samaritans.
But people who survive near-drownings are still at risk of experiencing severe complications, especially if they were deprived of oxygen for more than a minute or two. In some cases, those symptoms and complications take time to show up, which makes it critical to closely monitor near-drowning victims after their rescues.
Experts classify outcomes of near-drowning in three different ways:
- Survival with no lasting effects—These near-drowning victims may suffer temporary complications, but eventually recover fully with no lasting damage.
- Survival with permanent damage—Because near-drowning often involves prolonged oxygen deprivation, these victims may suffer permanent damage, often to their brains, lungs, and hearts.
- Survival with eventual death—Unfortunately, some near-drowning survivors may suffer damage that’s severe enough that they are unable to recover. Their bodies may begin to shut down hours after they were pulled from the water due to chain reactions caused by oxygen deprivation.
Although factors can vary depending on each near-drowning victim’s unique circumstances, outcomes often depend on how long victims were without oxygen while unconscious or submerged.
How to Monitor Near-Drowning Victims
Near-drowning victims should always be taken to the hospital or to see a doctor immediately after rescue. Any period without oxygen can put victims at serious risk of developing permanent and potentially fatal complications. People who are deprived of oxygen lose consciousness within three minutes, and within five minutes they begin to suffer brain damage.
When near-drowning victims are under medical supervision, their doctors will look for the following symptoms of permanent or potentially fatal damage:
- Hypoxemia—Near-drowning results in a reduced blood oxygen concentration level called hypoxemia due to the closure and spasms of the larynx. This dangerous condition can also happen when victims begin to actually drown and their larynxes relax and allow water to enter their lungs.
- Bluish skin—Hypothermia and oxygen deprivation can cause victims’ skin to develop a bluish-grey appearance.
- Agitation and disorientation—Reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain can cause victims to be agitated and disoriented. It can also be symptomatic of permanent brain damage.
- Electrolyte imbalances—Near-drownings can have widespread effects throughout the body, including the disruption of critical electrolyte balances in the bloodstream.
- Fluid in the lungs—Near-drowning victims whose larynxes relaxed or who inadvertently aspirated water will have excess fluid in their lungs.
- Pneumonia—Many victims who have aspirated water are at risk of developing pneumonia, a serious illness that requires medical supervision and immediate treatment.
Never attempt to monitor a near-drowning victim on your own, as the severity of their condition and potential prognosis may be impossible to know without special equipment, such as X-rays, blood tests, and pulse oximeters to measure blood oxygen levels.
What Should You Do if You Suspect a Near-Drowning?
Near-drownings are medical emergencies. If there’s a lifeguard on duty, alert them immediately if you think someone is struggling in the water or is losing consciousness or the strength to stay afloat. Only enter the water to save a struggling swimmer or unconscious person if you have the strength and skill to do so, as attempting to rescue can put you in danger of drowning as well. If they are conscious, throw a life ring, rope, or other flotation device to assist them.
When pulling a near-drowning victim from the water, immediately call 911 and begin rescue breathing and chest compressions. Avoid moving the victim as much as possible in case they have suffered a head or neck injury. If the near-drowning occurred in cold water, remove their wet clothing and cover them in warm blankets, towels, or dry clothing to prevent their body temperature from dropping.
When Near-Drownings Are Caused by Negligence, We’re Here to Help.
Sometimes near-drownings are the result of property owners failing to secure their swimming pools, boat owners failing to drive safely and cautiously, or even governmental bodies failing to post proper signage and warnings near bodies of water. Near-drownings cause serious injuries that can have permanent effects on victims and their families, including a lifetime of medical bills and disability.
At Parrish DeVaughn, our Oklahoma City personal injury lawyers know what near-drowning victims go through and all the ways the event changes their lives. If you or someone you love suffered a near-drowning incident because of someone else’s negligence, we want to hear from you. Contact us today for a free consultation.