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The Stages of a Drowning

Drowning problem Drowning facts and  drowning statistics Lifeguarding Challenges Stages of a drowning
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Most drowning victims don't yell or wave their arms to alert someone that they are in trouble. They are in a state of shock, and are often silent.

There are typically five stages to a drowning:

In this stage, the victim recognizes danger and becomes afraid. The victim assumes a near-vertical position in the water, with little or no leg movement. The arms will be at or near the water's surface, making random grasping or flipping motions. The head will be tilted back with the face turned up. Victims rarely make any sounds; they are struggling just to breath.

Involuntary Breath Holding
The victim has now dropped below the static water line and the body, in an attempt to protect itself, initiates involuntary breath holding. This occurs because water has entered the mouth and causes the epiglottis to close over the airway. Though a victim may continue to struggle, he/she will not usually make any sounds as he/she cannot breathe. Without oxygen, the victim will lose consciousness.

Because the victim has been without oxygen, the body shuts itself down as unconsciousness results. In this stage, the victim will be motionless. Because breathing has stopped, he/she is in respiratory arrest. There is no chest movement or breathing sounds. At this point, the victim sinks to the bottom of the water, either slowly or rapidly, depending on factors such as the amount of air trapped in the lungs, body weight, and muscle mass. The victim will remain unconscious (and die) unless breathing is reestablished.

Hypoxic Convulsions
Due to the lack of oxygen in the brain, the victim may look as if he/she is having a convulsion, which is why this stage is called the hypoxic convulsion stage. The victim's skin turns blue, especially in the lips and fingernail beds, and the body may appear rigid. There may be violent jerking of the body and frothing at the mouth.

Clinical Death
The final stage in the drowning process is death. Clinical death occurs when both breathing and circulation stop. The victim is in cardiac arrest. The heart stops pumping blood. The vital organs are no longer receiving oxygen rich blood. The lack of oxygen causes the skin to turn blue.

The earlier a lifesaver begins cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after the victim's heart stops and provides defibrillation (if needed), the better the victim's chance of surviving the incident. The longer the victim is submerged, the greater the chance of permanent brain damage or death. After four minutes without oxygen, brain cells begin to die, and irreversible brain damage occurs. This is called biological death.


Source: Jeff Ellis & Associates


Poseidon helps lifeguards monitor what is happening in the pool, alerts them in seconds to a swimmer in trouble, and helps them more quickly initiate a rescue to save a life.