Drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death, especially in children, but is often quite hard to recognize in the initial stages. It may be very hard for a person drowning to summon the energy to shout, so the sight of a swimmer waving should always be treated with suspicion.
The victim will attempt to hold his or her breath for as long as possible but will eventually be forced to take a breath, permitting water to enter the airway. The muscles in the throat will respond by going into spasm, which will then restrict breathing. The casualty will quickly lapse into unconsciousness as the oxygen supply to the brain is cut off.
The brain will sustain permanent damage after it has been deprived of oxygen for just three or four minutes, unless the water is very cold. Under these circumstances, the brain may require less oxygen and may survive unharmed for up to 30 minutes or more, particularly in the case of children. Therefore, it is always worth resuscitating a victim who has been pulled from cold water, even if you suspect he or she has been submerged for longer than four minutes.
Rescue and Treatment of a Drowning Victim
1. Do not risk your own safety. Try to reach the victim from land by extending a pole or a rope. Do not attempt to swim or wade through a strong current or deep, cold water as you may find yourself quickly overcome.
2. If you are carrying the victim to safety, try to ensure that you have a floating object, such as a board or a lifebelt, that he or she can grab hold of; in panic the victim may grab you and thus make it more difficult for you to keep afloat. Keep his or her head tilted below the level of the body to allow as much water to drain naturally as possible. Similarly, when laying the victim down, try to do soon a slope with the head down most.
3. Check the airway for signs of obstruction with weeds or other debris, and clear by using finger sweeps, except in very small children. Do not use abdominal thrusts as this may cause stomach contents to be inhaled.
4. If the victim still has a carotid pulse but is failing to breathe then begin mouth-to-mouth ventilation straight away.
5. If there is no carotid pulse or breathing then send someone for an ambulance and give full cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
6. Even though your casualty appears to have made a full recovery, always send him to hospital for observation as serious breathing difficulties may recur some hours after the accident. Whilst awaiting the arrival of the emergency services, keep the casualty as warm as possible, as he may be suffering from hypothermia.