First Aid for a person saved from Drowning

Last updated: April 7, 2021

Near Drowning

“Near drowning” is a term used for a person who nearly died from not being able to breathe underwater. 1 Drowning is a major reason for accidental death for people of every age group and the second major cause of demise from accidents among children aged 1–14 years. Most of these accidents occur in recreational water settings, counting pools, hot tubs, and natural water reservoirs ( e,g., lakes, rivers, and oceans). Playing in water is a source of pleasure and exercise for children, but water and children can be a lethal combo when hazardous conditions and poor supervision coexist. Drowning is a soundless death, the victim can’t cry or ask for help. People expire in quieter and less eye-catching ways. For each drowning death, it is roughly calculated that at the minimum 1 to 4 children face a severe nonfatal accident, many of which leave children with disabilities for a lifetime. Near drowning, the early survival after immersion can be deadly at times, most of the children found within two minutes of immersion survived without neurological effects. If someone has been saved from a near-drowning condition, early first aid and medical help are very crucial. 1

Considerations and causes

Every year thousands of people drown in the United States. Most accidents happen within reach of safety. Quick action and early first aid can save a life. A person who is drowning can not ask for help. Drowning in the bathtub is a leading cause in children younger than one year. A drowning person can be revived even after a long period of time underwater, especially the victim is of younger age and was in very cold water. If you spot someone fully clothed in water, suspect an accident. Observe irregular swimming patterns, which is a caution that the swimmer is getting tired. Usually, only the head can be seen above the surface of the water, the rest of the body sinks.1

Causes of drowning include:

  • An attempt to suicide
  • Attempting to swim beyond the capability
  • Behavioral/developmental disorders
  • Head injury while in the water
  • Being drunk while swimming or boating
  • Heart arrest or other cardiac issues
  • Rejection to use life jackets
  • Adventurous nature
  • Small children around bathtubs without supervision

First Aid

When you see someone drowning, do not put yourself at risk. Before getting into ice or water, make sure it is safe for you. Throw a rope to the victim, attached with a light material such as a life ring or life jacket, or extend a pole or branch of a tree to pull them to shore. If you are a trained rescuer, do so right away if only it will not compromise your safety. If the person has stopped breathing, start to rescue breathing as early as you reach a boat, raft, or surfboard, or reach part of the water where it is shallow enough to stand. Continue rescue breath every few seconds while shifting them to dry land. Once you reach on land, check the pulse of the drowning person, if you can’t feel a pulse then perform CPR. Always be cautious when moving a person who is drowning. Neck injuries are not frequent in people who are saved from near-drowning unless they have been hit by other objects. Neck and spine injuries may also happen when a person falls in shallow water. Due to this, the American Heart Association guidelines suggest against restricting the movement of the spine unless there are clear head injuries. However, the victim’s head and neck should be kept steady and aligned with the body while performing CPR and rescue from water.

These additional measures should be followed:

  • Look for any other critical injury and give first aid.
  • Ask the person to stay calm and still. Search for medical help as soon as possible.
  • Change any cold, wet clothes from the person with warm clothes. This will assist to stop hypothermia.1

Drowning Prevention

Everyone wants to see their children safe and secure and help them to live healthy lives. Knowing how to avert major reasons for child accidents, like drowning is an initiative toward this mission. When we are having fun at the beach or swimming pool, we don’t consider accidents as first thought. Yet drownings are a major reason for accidental death for young children. As a matter of fact, drowning is the leading cause of death in children aged 1–4 than anything else excluding birth defects. Thankfully, parents and caretakers can play a major role in saving their loved ones from drowning. 2

Key Prevention Tips

  • Everyone should know first aid and CPR and should know swimming.
  • Fix a four-sided fence around swimming pools. This will help to prevent children from accessing the pool area when they aren’t supposed to be swimming. The pool area should be separated from the house and children’s play area.
  • Kids should wear life jackets in and around the ocean or lakes even if they know swimming.
  • Closely monitor the kids when they are in or near water. Because drowning occurs swiftly and noiselessly, adults should not indulge themselves in distracting activities. 3


This page was last reviewed and updated by on Apr 5, 2021.