Drowning and Water Safety

By: Emory Healthcare
Date: Jun 19, 2024

Summer is finally here and many of us are eager to spend some time in the water cooling off, whether it’s at the pool, lake or beach. Water activities can make the summer heat a lot of fun, but we all must be “water aware” to avoid injuries or drowning.

You may be thinking, “This won’t happen to me,” or “I know how to swim, I’ll be fine.” While you or others may be excellent swimmers, it only takes a few seconds for someone to drown. It’s important to confirm that everyone in the group has basic swimming skills when taking part in water activities. You should also always designate a person to supervise your friends and family while you’re at any body of water, especially if there is not a lifeguard on duty.

But, there are a few actions we can all take to ensure we stay safe.

Who Is at Risk of Drowning?

There are many factors that may increase a person’s risk of drowning. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) outlines the five most common risk factors:

  • Swimming Ability: There are many adults and adolescents who lack swimming ability but still enjoy being near the water. Unfortunately, not being able to swim makes drowning a more likely possibility.
  • Few Protective Barriers: Without fencing or other barriers to bodies of water, children may wander into a pool area and could fall into the water.
  • Poor Supervision: Drowning may take place quickly and quietly anywhere that there is water. It’s important to constantly pay attention to people around any body of water.
  • Location: Depending on your age, the likelihood of drowning may change based on your location. For example, children under four have a higher likelihood of drowning in home swimming pools, while those 15 and older tend to drown in natural water settings.
  • Alcohol: The use of alcoholic substances is involved in nearly 25% of emergency room visits related to drowning, and in 70% of deaths that happen during recreational activities in water.

What Are Some Tips To Keep Drowning from Happening?

What To Do If Someone Is Drowning

  • Use anything around you to try and bring the drowning victim in from the water without putting yourself at risk.
  • Call others for help.
  • Lay the victim on their back and move their head and chin backward to try and clear their airway.
  • Pinch their nose as their head is tilted backward and breathe into their mouth with yours to perform a rescue breath.
  • After five rescue breaths, begin performing CPR.
  • After performing CPR for at least one minute, and if no one around you has already called 9-1-1, do so.
  • Continue performing CPR until the ambulance arrives.

What Is Dry Drowning?

“Dry drowning” or “secondary drowning” is when a serious amount of deterioration takes place after someone nearly drowns. This also occurs after the victim may appear relatively fine for a period of time. “Dry drowning” occurs when a person inhales water through their nose and/or mouth. The water inhalation causes a spasm that impacts their breathing by slowly closing the airway. This is different from drinking a lot of water, as the process the body uses to absorb it is different).

Symptoms of Dry Drowning

Although symptoms of dry drowning typically occur after a water incident, symptoms can also appear up to 24 hours after a near-drowning experience. It is important to watch for these signs:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Cold or bluish skin
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Vomiting


Get Emergency Care

If someone is coughing profusely, sputtering and showing other signs of respiratory distress like those above, contact your health care professional, call 9-1-1 or immediately seek emergency care.

Know Where to Go

Knowing where to go when you’re ill makes a big difference. But it can get confusing. Know where to go to get the right care at the right time. Your primary care doctor knows your medical history best, but the Emory Healthcare Network includes more than 3,450 physicians in over 70 specialties, nearly 500 locations and 11 hospitals, as well as primary care offices, urgent cares, MinuteClinics, and 6 ERs throughout metro Atlanta. Get the care you need wherever you need it. See our map to find the locations closest to you.

Make an Appointment

If you’re not sure if a trip to the ER is needed, call your family doctor or speak to one of our representatives by calling 404-778-7777, Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Saturday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.. They can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you.

Schedule your appointment today.

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