survival-doctor-ad-stabbed
My Family Doctor Blog

Google search



Free Health Newsletter

free-health-newsletterThank you for visiting! You can sign up for our free monthly newsletter here. You'll get the latest articles, with tips and insights from doctors, registered dietitians and more.

We never spam or share your email address.

Click here to read previous newsletters.

What Happens to Your Body When You Drown?

by Erik McLaughlin, M.D., M.P.H.

life preserver storm clouds

You can only go a few seconds without oxygen before organ damage begins. The brain is typically the first affected. Here are the steps a body may go through when drowning.
  1. As a person realizes he might be drowning, there’s often a large amount of panic. This leads to rapid movements and expending a lot of energy, which consumes more oxygen.
  2. At the same time, if the person remains underwater, her body begins to accumulate carbon dioxide. This gas is what stimulates you to feel that need to breathe. Eventually, the victim involuntarily draws in breath.
  3. When water reaches the airway, the first response is to cough or swallow the water. This typically results in more water being ingested.
  4. As water contacts the lower airways, the throat spasms, trying to seal off the path to the lungs. With nowhere else to go, water frequently finds its way into the stomach.
  5. The throat relaxes after the person becomes unconscious. The relaxation allows water to flow into the lungs.
newsletter-graphic

This complex reaction can cause a variety of other problems as well. That’s one of many reasons most experts are beginning to use the term “water-immersion injury” to describe these problems, rather than “drowning” and “near drowning.”


ERIK MCLAUGHLIN, M.D., M.P.H.,
is a family-doctor resident in Chicago and former EMT/firefighter. He runs the travel health Web site www.AdventureHealthClinic.com.


YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN:


Last updated and/or approved: June 2010.
Original article appeared in July/August 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of July/August 2009. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Share/Save/Bookmark
Comments (18)add comment
 1 2 > 
0
Nearly drowned
written by Nick , April 13, 2015

I went white water rafting with my brothers , cousin and uncle yesterday. I've rafted once before n vowed never to do it again after falling out, but this year I lost the fear and wated to take my big brother for his stag party. We had a perfect storm, rain the week before ice cold 39 degree water and a 67 degree day. As we got in to the first of 3 large Rapids , we hit the wave perfectly head on. As you should, but in the blink of an eye , I was under water. I was pinched between the boat which was caught on a rock and facing the oncoming river current, just beneath the surface. I tried to get to the surface and for a moment I thought I was high enough to take a breath, but the current filled my stomach with water in that moment and I found no air. After about the third minute I realized I was calm as I've ever been, I thought of my wife n daughter(10) and two boys( 3 and 6) and knew I wasn't making it out of this water alive, I started to fall asleep, with water in my body like a warm hug, I closed my eyes in complete peace. Just as they closed I was ripped out of my slumber by my brother who was just pulled out of unconsciousness and my other brother n cousin. The guide was screaming from the other boat to get me in the boat. I sat up, vomited about a gallon of water, grabbed my paddle and we nailed class iv Rapids hsrd for the next hour straight. I have been reliving this moment repeatedly for the last 24 hours. I can't focus on anything for longer than 10 minutes without drifting into the memory. crazy
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +1

0
It feells very peaceful
written by Patricia , April 06, 2015

When I was a little girl, probably about 2 or3, I remember everything clearly as if it happened yesterday. I remember only one thing, the total peace and comfort I was feeling. I remember looking up and seeing a big yellowish bright big light and i remember saying to myself 'isn't that beautiful' and then i was happy and felt like i was almost sleeping. no pain only comfort and peace. Thank God my poor mother grabbed me by the hair and saved me. That part i do not remember but she told me the whole story when i was older. i was a very active kid always trying to get away from my family, as most kids do i guess, and somehow she turned away for a few minutes and headed for the ocean! I thought i would tell the people here that have lost loved ones to drownings that they more than likely felt a peace that is not scary at all. When i think back on my exp. now i realize the yellow thing i saw was either the sun or a quick view to heaven. I hope this story helps anyone going through such heartbreaking exp. some peace.
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +3

0
The day I drowned
written by Shirley Freitag , December 02, 2014

About 60 years ago I was having fun in whst I thought was a shallow part of lake.

Next thing I know I was underwater and I panicked . It felt like seconds and then the most
Peaceful and wonderful feeling came over me. Yes, there is a tunnel and bright light.

I came to on shore throwing up water.

All this I remember vividly, as if it just happened.

report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +1

0
Thank you
written by Neal Austinson , December 01, 2014

Thank you Olivia, I'm glad you survived to tell your story and continue on with life.
We just lost a loved one who drowned and I hope he didn't
suffer.

report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +1

0
drowning
written by amos , November 12, 2014

What causes the body of a drowned person to float above water after few days. Insted of the body going down.?
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +3

0
when i all most ddrown
written by nadia khan , June 22, 2014

i nerle died i it was not for a dog that saved me and i was so scered
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0

0
I drowned in a hospital
written by Trish Dee , May 15, 2014

I had been in the hospital for some 32 days with an undiagnosed illness. An MRI with contrast had been scheduled and I woke up
remembering that I had started vomiting on the contrast and someone pushed me back when I leaned over to vomit on the floor.
I was told on awakening that I had "coded' on the contrast. After a while I was then told THAT I coded twice on the contrast. A tube
was down my throat when I awoke and, of course I lived to tell about it. But to drown like that I remember no pain, no fear, and awoke very tired.

report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +1

0
My Nephew Drowned
written by Sandra Alexander , February 04, 2014

My nephew drowned some years ago in Okinawa Japan while serving in the Marines. From my understanding he drowned while on a training mission. We the family was told that several other marines were with him and they tried to save him. I was never really comfortable with the story told. However, I almost went crazy just thinking about how he must have suffered. I realized I had to let it got in order to continue with my life.

I feel a little better hearing some of the stories.

Thank you!

report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +7

0
...
written by Naomi , January 10, 2014

My little cousin died drowned tree days before christmas. he was 2 and half. i came here to have an idea of what he went through...
its extremely terrific to die in such ways. thank you all

report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0

0
I did drowned and come back for those who wonder
written by Olivia , December 10, 2013

In December of 2009 on Sunday the 13th to be exact I went scuba diving with some friends which was very usual for me. I have been a diver since I was 13 and am now 36 I can longer dive due to brain injures but at that time I was even a professional lifeguard to give you some clue into what kind of swimmer I am and was at that time; anyway leading up to that day my ex boyfriend called me and asked me to go diving that day with him because it was his first open water dive and he took the class because I was so passionate about diving so I agreed to go. That morning I remember we met at the dive shop and a large group drove a caravan farther south (in florida) and I felt fine like any other day when we got to the boat the instructor asked if I would stay with him and my ex and the new divers just for an extra person experienced in the group instead of going with the other divers who were going to a deeper spot but I agreed to help with the new bees. I remember being underwater nothing was wrong or off but the last thing I remember was looking at some coral then I was looking down at my body on the boat everyone freaking out and I had no idea that was me they were doing cpr on; the next thing I heard was a soft whisper that "it's" ok then a day or so later I woke up in ICU. Looking back I had no idea what happened and no one knew or EVER found out they just found me eyes opened no pulse full of water to the point they had to get water out of my lungs just to give me cpr' but the big point is it was like going to sleep for those of you parents who wonder I'm a mom and I can't imagine wondering if my kids suffered if something like that happened to them but for me it was peaceful and painless so please take my story and I hope it may give some type of peace.
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +6

 1 2 > 

Write comment
smaller | bigger
 

busy
 
© My Family Doctor 2015.
Magazine Publishing Website Design and Digital Magazine Media Solutions for Publishers