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Quick Tips to Save a Drowning Victim

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD August 20, 2019

Introduction

This Straight, No Chaser post offers you quick tips to save a drowning victim. Hopefully you’ll never have to use these tips, but knowledge is life!

Drowning-Prevention-Circle Infographic

Can you swim? Have you ever witnessed someone drowning or almost drown? I’ve actually been rescued. It’s a truly horrifying experience. It only takes a few minutes of your time to learn how to perform in this life-threatening environment. This Straight, No Chaser discusses simple but critical steps you can take to save a life – even if you can’t swim. Remember, prevention and preparation give the best opportunity for survival in many circumstances.

Tips

1. If the victim is still conscious, attempt to hand him something that can be used to pull him from the water. If you’re out of handing distance, throw either a floatable object or something he can hold onto and with which he can be pulled to safety.
2. If the victim has fallen into solid ice, and you have enough individuals, consider forming a human rope, with each individual interconnected and at least two individuals safely connected back on firm land.
Drowning-Survival-Infographic3. The victim should be removed from the water at the earliest opportunity. Forego inclination to perform chest compressions or rescue breathing in the water.
4. If possible, remove the victim from the water as flat (horizontal) as possible. You want to make every effort to avoid damage to the neck throughout this entire process (this actually would be additional injury to the neck; there’s a fair chance such an injury has already occurred).
CPR cab

More Tips!

5. Once victims are out of the water, NEVER assume death unless you’re a qualified medical professional. Begin CPR, as described in this Straight, No Chaser.
6. If the victim has an altered mental status, check the airway for foreign material and vomitus. Also, use your fingers to sweep away any material visible between the mouth and throat.
7. The Heimlich maneuver (abdominal thrusting) is not effective in removing swallowed water. Don’t waste valuable time with it.
8. If you’ve successfully saved a drowning victim, don’t bother taking off wet clothes. It’s not worth the possible agitation to the neck, and recent medical thought suggests that cooling after certain likely types of cardiac arrest is especially beneficial in reducing brain injury and death. This consideration is much more important than any benefit to be gained from warming the patient. Sounds weird, but it’s the truth.
Drowning_safety_children_CPSC

Regarding the above picture, yes it’s true that one can drown in inches of water. Infant safety means keeping them at arm’s length while they’re in the water.

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