Near-Drowning: What to Do After a Close Call in the Water

When a person survives a drowning event, or “near-drowning,” is a common but out-of-date phrase for surviving a drowning event. Within 3 minutes underwater, most people lose consciousness. Within 5 minutes underwater, the brain’s oxygen supply begins to drop. A lack of oxygen can cause brain damage.

Drowning survivors can have serious health complications. For instance, right after a drowning, a person may be unconscious, gasp for air, cough up pink froth, vomit, or breathe rapidly. These are all cause for alarm, and 911 or other emergency services should be called immediately if a drowning victim exhibits any of these behaviors or becomes confused or seems to be in an altered mental state.

Even a little water in the lungs can cause serious lung problems in the next hours or days. Emergency medical care is critical after a person survives a drowning.

You should call a doctor now if a recent drowning victim has new breathing problems or signs of a lung infection, such as:

  • A cough with or without colored mucus
  • Rapid breathing. Breaths may also be shallow.
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fever
  • An unusual level of weakness
  • A whistling noise (wheezing) while breathing
  • Tightness in the chest

Heading to the beach this year? Make sure you know where the local Emergency Departments are and which numbers to call in the event of an emergency!

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