Drowning suffocation is caused by a lack of oxygen – resulting in death in only a few minutes. However, some victims have been submerged in ice-cold water for up to an hour and survived without any physical damage. 

Spotting Trouble

Drowning is a silent killer. Drowning victims may not be able to call for help because they are expending all their energy to breathe and keep their heads above water. If water is breathed in – the airway may go into a spasm, making it difficult to cry for help. 

To identify a drowning person consider the following: 

  • Flailing arms in the water,
  • Displaying uneven swimming motions, 
  • They yell “Help I’m drowning”,
  • Only the head is showing above water – the mouth open. 


Consider the following:

  • Abdominal distention, 
  • Vomiting, 
  • Bluish or pale skin – face and lips,
  • Cough with frothy clear to pink sputum, 
  • Decreased consciousness or unconsciousness, 
  • Laboured or no breathing,
  • Weak or no heartbeat. 

First Aid Treatment

Consider the following:

  • Be wary of any potential neck injury, 
  • If breathing has stopped – begin mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing and consider CPR,
  • If the airway is obstructed, consider the Heimlich Maneuver until the airway is cleared, 
  • If there is breathing and circulation and no suspected spinal injury – place the person in a recovery position to allow the swallowed water to drain,
  • To prevent hypothermia – remove wet clothing.


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