There Are Six Types of Drowning — Four That You’ve Never Heard Of
Would you know when someone is drowning? Most incidences look nothing like you think they would. As summer begins, we wanted to share this surprising info every beachgoer, pool user, and parent needs to know. Emergency medicine physician Darria Long Gillespie, an academic in the US, explains. The Six Types of Drowning: In reality, most types of […]
September 10, 2015 6:00 am
Would you know when someone is drowning? Most incidences look nothing like you think they would. As summer begins, we wanted to share this surprising info every beachgoer, pool user, and parent needs to know.
Emergency medicine physician Darria Long Gillespie, an academic in the US, explains.
The Six Types of Drowning:
In reality, most types of drowning are subtle, quick, and silent. One can happen hours after one has gotten out of the pool, ocean or bathtub. And the most mysterious type of drowning does not even require water in the windpipe. Here’s what drowning can mean, and how it looks across cases.
Wet drowning is the classic case you imagine when someone mentions drowning. “If you think of what happens when you’re caught underwater and holding your breath, the body eventually inhales liquid,” says Gillespie. “The liquid floods the lungs, harms the lining, and you can’t take in oxygen. This is the most common type.”
In roughly 10 to 15 percent of deaths by drowning, victims are found with no water in their lungs. “The throat reflexively closed before they hit water, and they died,” says Gillespie. “For a while, though, doctors wondered, does it really exist?”
There was no obvious explanation for dry drowning, although experts have come up with a couple theories. One is that the initial flood of water causes the throat to close up, and victims die by asphyxiation. The other is that victims go into shock upon hitting cold water, the heart stops suddenly, and they go into cardiac arrest.
Drowning in the movies is a wild event. Arms are flailing, water is splashing, and the victim is calling for help. In reality, drowning is often a very quiet moment. “Any drowning can be silent,” says Gillespie.
“This term simply refers to the fact that there is no warning, and no sounds.” The victim often just slips away, and is found later. Drowning is something Hollywood gets wrong.
That said, there are rare times when a drowning victim is fighting. Active drowning refers to the state of the victim when they’re found in the water. “The person is likely upright, they are treading water, trying to keep themselves above it, and their hands are flailing,” says Gillespie. “They are also likely trying to grasp for the rescuer.”
This whir of motion is actually dangerous for the person attempting to make the rescue, and they must use extra caution in the water. The drowning victim may latch onto a rescuer, and potentially drag him or her underwater.
When a victim is unconscious — usually in the later stages of a drowning episode — it’s referred to as passive drowning. “They are generally facedown in the water instead of upright,” says Gillespie. “Sometimes they aren’t on top of the water, but floating a bit under the surface, and they are unresponsive.”
Most people aren’t aware of secondary drowning, but it can be frightening. “Someone was submerged, they did not die, came out of the water and initially seemed fine — and that’s what is so dangerous,” says Gillespie.
While under the water, secondary drowning victims inhale a small amount of water, which damages the lining of the lungs and causes inflammation. “If the lung lining is damaged, it can’t transmit oxygen, and the body is also leaking fluid into the lungs as a result of the inflammation,” Gillespie says. This fluid accumulates in the hours following a near-drowning episode, and the victim can slowly and silently drown.
Especially with children, parents should watch for the signs of secondary drowning for around 24 hours after a near-drowning episode. “When an adult is drowning, they can keep their head above water,” Gillespie says. “When it’s a child, they can’t always keep their head above the water.”
If your child experiences a near-drowning, or is sucked under the surface and inhales water, look for the signs. These include excessive fatigue, constant coughing, breathing abnormally, and vomiting — the latter of which “is important, and occurs in about 60 percent” of secondary drowning cases, according to Gillespie.
Other changes in behaviour, like acting out of character or soiling themselves, should also be noted.
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