All the Ways It’s Possible to Drown and the Signs to Look For

25. Make Sure Pools Are Secured With a Fence and Alarm The story is always the same. It’s a warm summer day, and both parents are… Trista - August 14, 2019

There are many different types of drownings, and only a few drowning cases are the classic Hollywood depiction of someone flailing and screaming in the water. People can drown right in front of others, and no one even knows what happened. Read on to learn about the different types of drowning so that you can identify them and know when to call for help.


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1. You Have Probably Heard of Wet Drowning

Wet drowning is probably the kind of drowning that you learned about in middle school. In this scenario, somebody is submerged, and his or her lungs begin to fill up with water. He or she may be attempting to breathe, and the lungs fill up with water instead of air.

Somebody who is experiencing wet drowning maybe just a short distance from other people, but them not notice that there is anything wrong. The person in distress may not flail the arms or shout for help because he or she is expending so much energy just trying to remain above water.


2. Victims of Wet Drowning Usually Aspirate Water

The person who is in distress and experiencing drowning will attempt to breathe in air but, in a case of wet drowning, will take in water instead. He or she may be underwater for so long that the lungs force him or her to breathe, even if the person breathes water instead of air.

Similarly, the person may be above water but be submerged just enough to take in water, which then enters the lungs. “Wet drowning” is classified assuchbecause ofthe water that comes intothe lungs whenthe person is in distress.


3. Someone Who Regurgitates Water Experienced Wet Drowning

Have you seen a movie seen in which someone went under, and when the rescuer performed CPR, the victim spit out water? That person experienced wet drowning. The key indicator is that water was in the lungs.

If water doesn’t exit the lungs when someone attempts to revive the victim, the water will be present during a post-mortem examination, or autopsy. Sadly, most people who experience wet drowning are in very close proximity to safety. They are not out in the middle of the ocean but are either close to shore or even in their own bathtubs.


4. In Wet Drowning, the Person Dies of Circulatory Distress

A victim of wet drowning does not actually die from the water in the lungs. What happens is that the water gets quickly absorbed into the bloodstream because the body mistakes it for oxygen, which must be quickly transported to cells. Additionally, the water soon damages the lining of the lungs and prevents them from taking in oxygen.

The excessive amount of water floods the circulatory system and throws off its delicate pH level. The person dies because the circulatory system collapses under all of the pressure of the extra water.


5. A Victim of Wet Drowning May Not Call Out For Help

When water enters the lungs, the vocal cords usually go into a spasm. This condition prevents the victim from calling out for help. As such, the drowning victim will probably not thrash and flail about in the water, beginning for rescue. He or she may die in front of friends and families.

A trained lifeguard will be able to recognize the silent symptoms of drowning and be able to rescue a victim who is completely quiet. One of the best ways to prevent drowning is to make sure that you only swim when a lifeguard is on duty.


6. Most Drownings Occur in a “Safe Place”

The vast majority of drownings do not occur far out at sea or in the deep end of a swimming pool. Many drownings occur in a bathtub, especially when parents turn their backs on infants and toddlers, even for just a moment. Many children drown in a bucket that has water in it, sometimes with the parent in the next room.

An average of 10 people in the US dies every day from drowning, with one in five being children under 14. In fact, drowning is the fourth-leading cause of death in children under the age of 14.


7. Alcohol is a Leading Cause of Drowning Deaths

Death by drowning is by no means limited to children. Over half of all drowning victims are adults; among people aged 15 to 44, drowning is the 10th-leading cause of death.

Among adults, alcohol is involved in anywhere from 25% to 50% to deaths that are engaged in water recreation. Among adolescent boys who drown, that number is even higher. The single best thing that you can do to avoid drowning, in addition to only swimming with a lifeguard on duty, is to avoid consuming alcohol while engaging in any form of water recreation.


8. When Someone Drowns, the Larynx Spasms

As previously mentioned, when water begins to enter the airway, the larynx, or vocal cords, go into a spasm, thereby preventing the person from calling out for help. Eventually, though, the vocal cords may loosen up, which causes water to enter into the lungs. The person may still be unable to call out for help because all of the energy is being expended in trying to keep the head above water.

When the water enters the lungs, wet drowning begins. However, there are other forms of drowning, namely dry drowning, in which water does not enter the lungs.

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9. A Wet Drowning Victim Can Die After Being Rescued

Wet drowning does not occur because the person is unable to inhale enough oxygen. Drowning occurs because of the water that enters the lungs. A lifeguard or bystander can rescue a drowning victim, bring him or her to safety, and the person still perishes.

The person dies because the water that is in the lungs causes damage to the lining of the lungs, thereby preventing oxygen from circulating. The excess water also enters the bloodstream and causes a collapse of the circulatory system. Even when a drowning victim is rescued, 911 should always be called and the person immediately taken to a hospital.

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10. Dry Drowning Occurs When No Water Enters the Lungs

As many as 90% of drowning deaths are due to water entering the lungs, which causes damage to the lungs’ lining and circulatory distress. However, a different type of drowning – dry drowning – occurs when water does not enter the lungs.

If someone has died due to dry drowning, when an autopsy is done, the lungs will be free of water. To the untrained eye, it may seem that the person did not drown at all. However, the method of drowning is different but still falls under the definition of someone dying while in respiratory distress in the water.


11. Dry Drowning Happens When the Larynx Goes Into Spasm

Remember that when water begins to enter the airway, the larynx, or vocal cords, will go into a spasm. This prevents the person from calling out for help, but it also prevents the water from entering the lungs. In a case of wet drowning, the vocal cords will eventually relax so that water enters the lungs.

In dry drowning, however, the airway will completely seal itself shut. The person will actually die from asphyxiation. No water is able to enter the lungs, and the person does not experience lung damage or cardiovascular distress. He or she dies from lack of oxygen.


12. Waterboarding Can Cause Dry Drowning

Waterboarding is a form of torture that the CIA and US military routinely use against non-US citizens. It is designed to simulate drowning by putting a wet cloth over the mouth and nose of the person being tortured. What can sometimes happen is that the person experiences dry drowning.

This occurs because, as the airway closes up to prevent the water from entering the lungs, the person asphyxiates. Even though the person experiencing the torture is not actually underwater, the agony is designed to simulate the feeling of being underwater and drowning. This simulation alone is enough to cause dry drowning in some victims.


13. For a Long Time, Doctors Did Not Believe Dry Drowning Existed

The prevailing wisdom of what drowning is and why it occurs has long been that the victim inhaled water instead of oxygen. Common sense dictates that in any drowning victim, water will be present in the lungs. The lack of water in the lungs of dry drowning victims baffled many doctors.

For a long time, plenty of doctors just didn’t believe that such a thing as dry drowning existed. They would attribute it to other factors, such as a person experiencing cardiac arrest while he or she just happened to be in the water. Today, however, doctors are well-aware of dry drowning. As many as 20% of drowning victims have experienced dry drowning.


14. Most Drowning Victims Are Silent

Drowning is not a theatrical show, no matter what Hollywood would have you believe. The vast majority of people who drown do so while just a few feet away from safety, whether that safety is the shoreline, the edge of a pool, or friends and family swimming nearby.

What often happens is that nobody recognizes that the person is drowning. He or she dies silently and is only later found to have died. Being aware of the signs of drowning, rather than merely being concerned if someone makes a scene, can help prevent loved ones from succumbing to this most unpleasant fate.


15. Some Drowning Victims Are Active

Though most drowning victims are surprisingly quiet, some remain quite active throughout the drowning episode. They may kick and flail their arms, and they will often stay upright and appear to be treading water so as to keep the head above water.

Trying to rescue someone who is active during a drowning episode can put the rescuer in danger. Often, the drowning victim will latch onto anything available to try to stay afloat and will push the rescuer underwater. If someone near you is drowning like this and there is no lifeguard nearby, you will want to give the victim something to latch onto, like a pool toy, while you hoist him or her to safety.


16. Thousands of Americans Die Each Year From Drowning

Drowning is surprisingly common, and its occurrence increases dramatically during the summer months when people spend more time in recreational activities on the water. Being aware of the signs of drowning is vital so that you can get help for a loved one who may go into distress while in the water.

The excellent news about drowning is that nearly all drowning deaths are preventable. The keys are to be able to identify drowning when it is happening and engaging specific safety measures to prevent drowning in the first place.


17. Secondary Drowning Can Kill Children

One of the most dangerous forms of drowning is known as secondary drowning. What makes it so vulnerable is that it actually does not occur when the child is in the water. The story of a child who died from secondary drowning usually goes as follows:

The child was playing in the water and went under. The parent or other caretakers immediately pulled the child up and made sure that he or she was okay. Two days later, the child mysteriously died. The cause of death in these circumstances is usually secondary drowning.

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18. Secondary Drowning Is a Form of Wet Drowning

Remember that dry drowning occurs because the person is unable to breathe and dies of asphyxiation. Wet drowning occurs because the person inhaled water, which damages the lining of the lungs. The water also enters the bloodstream, which causes the cardiovascular system to collapse.

Secondary drowning is a form of wet drowning, meaning that it occurs because water enters the lungs. The child may be submerged for only a couple of seconds, or may not even be submerged at all. The danger is that the water in the lungs has damaged the delicate lining and has set off a chain of events.



19. Secondary Drowning Occurs Days After Being Submerged

After the child is plucked from the water by a parent or caregiver, he or she may feel completely fine. The child may want to continue playing in the water and seeing as the initial scare has passed, the parent allows this, albeit with a more watchful eye.

While the initial danger of drowning in the water has passed, the threat of secondary drowning has not. The child may begin experiencing symptoms the next day or even a few days after the water entered the lungs.

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20. Secondary Drowning Mimics Pneumonia

Pneumonia is what occurs when the lungs become inflamed; in extreme cases, fluid may enter the lungs, and the linings may become damaged. When a child experiences secondary drowning because of water that is in the lungs but is undetected, the body responds as if it is fighting off pneumonia.

Sadly, the body’s response – which may include a fever and cough – is insufficient to deal with the damage that is occurring within the lungs and the bloodstream. Unless the child receives medical care immediately, he or she can die from secondary drowning.


21. If a Child Experiences Respiratory Symptoms During the Summer, Get Help Immediately

What may appear to be a simple cough during the summer months may actually be a symptom of secondary drowning, especially if the child has been swimming or playing in the water in the past 48 to 72 hours.

Taking a child to the emergency room with a cough may sound like overkill, but if you explain the symptoms to a pediatrician there, the doctor may immediately identify the child as a victim of secondary drowning. Immediate medical care, which may include a hospital stay, will probably be required.


22. Near Drowning is a Real Thing

A person can be a drowning victim but not die. Near drowning is what occurs when somebody begins to go through the process of drowning but is rescued before dying. The World Health Organization officially recognizes near-drowning as a disease.

Keep in mind that wet drowning occurs because of the water that enters the lungs. Just because somebody was rescued alive before dying in the water does not mean that the danger has passed. A victim of near-drowning still needs to be immediately taken to a hospital to be examined. He or she may spend a few days there while the lungs heal from water damage.

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23. There Are Ways to Prevent Drowning

While the prospect of drowning or watching somebody else drown is undoubtedly terrifying, the good news is that most drowning deaths are preventable. If you know what to look for and immediately call for help when somebody has experienced drowning, then you can save somebody’s life.

Being aware of the different ways to prevent drowning is the first key to making sure that you and the people that you love do not fall victim. Make sure that you and your loved ones always follow water safety guidelines so that your recreational time in the pool, lake, or beach is as enjoyable as possible.

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24. Only Swim With a Lifeguard on Duty

You may think that you are a good swimmer, and maybe you actually are. However, you are not immune to the dangers of drowning. At the beginning of the summer, when your muscles are not accustomed to the rigors of swimming, you may push yourself harder than you are capable and find yourself in distress.

The best way to prevent drowning is only to swim when there is a lifeguard on duty. Lifeguards are trained to recognize when someone is drowning and intervening in such a way that they will not get pulled underwater.


25. If You Have a Pool, Get Trained as a Lifeguard

If you have your own pool at home, there are additional measures that you need to take, especially if you have children. Only swimming when there is a lifeguard on duty is probably a bit over-protective if you have your own pool and swim in it every day.

In this case, the best option is for you and someone else in your family to become trained and certified as lifeguards. The training can make sure that you are able to make sure that your children, and whoever may come to play in the pool with them, are always safe.


25. Make Sure Pools Are Secured With a Fence and Alarm

The story is always the same. It’s a warm summer day, and both parents are at home. Each parent assumes that the other is supervising the young child. The child gets outside and decides to go swimming in the backyard pool.

Nobody hears the splash as the child gets into the water. Both parents freeze at the same moment as they realize that nobody is supervising. They get outside too late and find that the child has already drowned.

In order to prevent this scenario, if you have a pool at home, make sure that it is secured with a locked fence that is at least four feet high. Make sure that the back door and the fence are alarmed so that you are immediately notified if the child tries to get into the pool.


26. Don’t Drink Near Water

Nothing is as relaxing as getting out on a flat with a cold beer. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. But remember that as many as 50% of drowning deaths among adults are due to alcohol.

If you really want to enjoy that cold beer on a warm summer day, do so in a poolside chair or while standing up in the shallow end of the pool. Don’t assume that you are capable of handling a buzz while playing in the water. And don’t think that you and 100 of your closest friends can get drunk while swimming without any consequences.


27. Always Supervise Children Near Water

This cannot be overstated enough. Most children who drown do so just a few feet from their caregivers. Children who experience secondary drowning often become submerged when their parents or caregivers turned their backs for just a moment.

When children that you are caring for are swimming, do not let them out of your sight. Don’t assume that just because a lifeguard is on duty, that he or she is as vigilant as you are. The lifeguard will be thereto help in case of an emergency, but your responsibility to the children in your care is to prevent that emergency in the first place.


28. Never Leave an Infant or Toddler Unattended in the Bathtub

Most infants and toddlers who drown do so in the bathtub. Parents who are bathing young children may become distracted by a phone call. They may also assume that if the child is contentedly playing with bath toys, that he or she is okay.

Never, ever leave a child unattended in the bathtub, even for a minute. Remain constantly vigilant while bathing an infant or toddler, even if the child is secured in a bath seat. Bath seats and other devices can lull parents into a false sense of security so that they are not as aware as they should be.


29. Always Swim With a Buddy

Buddy systems are the safest way to engage in recreational activities, especially on the water. They provide accountability so that if one person is in distress, the other person can immediately call for help before pain turns into a life-threatening emergency.

Swimming with a buddy also means that the person you are swimming with may recognize when you are becoming too tired. You may insist that you are able to continue swimming without a problem, but when your partner realizes that there is a problem, he or she may force you to take a break.


30. Never Swim Past Your Abilities

Children, in particular, especially those who are able to swim, may decide that they are better at swimming than they actually are. They may choose to dive into the deep end of the pool when they are not able to.

Swimming past your abilities, trying to do things in the water that you actually do not have the skills to do, is one cause of drowning. If you want to gain better abilities for swimming, the best thing to do is take swim lessons, not push your own limits.


31. Make Sure Children Wear Proper Flotation Devices

Many children who drown do so while wearing swim floaties on their arms. These devices are actually dangerous for two primary reasons. One is that they lull parents into a false sense of security and make them feel that they do not need to be constantly vigilant of their children in the water.

Another reason is those swim floaties that are worn on the arms only keep the arms above water. But children don’t drown because water enters their arms. They drown because water enters their lungs.

Children need to wear proper flotation devices that keep their heads above water. For young children, this may mean a swimsuit that includes a flotation device for the torso.

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32. Never Dive Into Shallow Water

Some people drown because they experienced an injury while in the water. The easiest way to experience an injury in the water is to dive into the shallow end of a pool. Doing so can easily cause a spinal cord injury, which can be life-limiting even if you do not drown.

If a friend is trying to dare you to dive into the shallow end, don’t take the bait. Don’t ever dive into water that is not at least eight feet deep. Otherwise, you run a very high risk of injuring yourself and drowning before anyone is able to get help.


33. Don’t Swim When You Feel Ill

If you are not feeling well, the best thing to do is not get into the water. First off, nobody wants to swim in the water after someone has vomited in it. But on a more critical note, if you are feeling ill, you are at a much higher risk of drowning.

Only swim when you are feeling well and alert enough to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Remember that if you begin to feel sick while you are in the water, you may drown before you are able to get help.


34. Check the Depth of the Water Before Getting In

You may assume that the water is eight feet deep when it is actually three feet, so decide what you will dive in — bad idea. Or you may think that the water is shallow when it is actually quite deep, so don’t hold your breath and prepare for a trip down.

Before getting into the water, always check to make sure how deep it is. If you are in a natural source of water, like a lake or the ocean, you may not always be aware of how deep it is. In these cases, the best option is to remain around other people and don’t go out further than where others have gone.


35. Never Swim in Rough Water

If you are out at the beach, there are few things more fun than playing in the waves as the tide comes in. However, if the water becomes rough – especially if the beach flags are orange or above – do not try to swim in the water.

If you were planning for a beautiful beach day, but the water is too rough, make a trip to a swimming pool instead. It may not be what you had hoped for, but swimming in the ocean when the water is rough puts you and those with you at a heightened risk of drowning.


36. Be Aware of Rip Tides

Riptides are the underwater currents that happen when the tide pulls back from the shore. Many people who drown while swimming in the ocean are carried far from shore by rip tides and are unable to get to safety.

If there are strong rip tides, then you probably want to avoid swimming in the ocean altogether that day. If you ever do get caught in a riptide, do not resist it. Fighting the riptide will wear you out so that you will not be able to swim to safety. Let the riptide carry you out, and then swim back to the shore after it has loosened its grip on you.


37. Never Horseplay Near Water

Chicken fights – when two people wrestle while on other people’s shoulders – may be a lot of fun. They are also easy ways to drown. Most lifeguards nowadays will not permit chicken fights in the water, and for good reason.

Never run around a pool, and never allow children to do so. The slippery ground around a pool can cause you to slip and fall into the water unprepared. If the water is shallow, you can hit your head. If the water is deep, you may go under and not be able to get up. Either way, you are at a heightened risk of drowning.


38. Always Call For Help If Someone Drowns

Remember that not all drowning episodes result in death. If someone had to be rescued from the water, he or she might have water in the lungs, which can cause life-threatening damage, even after the rescue.

Make sure that you call for help or take the drowning victim immediately to the hospital to be examined. This is especially important if the victim was a child, as the child can experience secondary drowning and die unexpectedly days later.

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39. Make Sure That Filters and Other Suction Devices Are in Safe Places

Many children have drowned because a foot or other part of their bodies became trapped in the pool filter. Even when the lifeguard tried to help them, they were submerged so far underwater and trapped in a suctioning device, so they were unable to be rescued.

To prevent this situation, make sure that filters and other suction devices are installed correctly in a location that will not pose a threat. Even if hair gets caught in one of these devices, the person’s head can become submerged and cause drowning. When in doubt, have an expert come in and look at your pool devices.


40. Always Swim Safely

Swimming safely means being aware of your abilities and the abilities of the other people that you are with. Make sure that the pool you are in is not overcrowded, as the lifeguard may not be able to see you if you go into distress.

Make sure that you and the people you are with follow the lifeguard’s instructions. Whenever possible, swim in clear water, as the lifeguard or other people in your group will be able to see more clearly if you or someone else is in distress. Make sure that you enjoy your time in the water and that it does not end in disaster for anyone.