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Learning About Non-Fatal Drowning

What is non-fatal drowning?

Drowning happens when a person is underwater and breathes water into the lungs. A drowning that doesn't result in death is often called a non-fatal drowning.

When you breathed water into your lungs, the lungs were no longer able to supply oxygen to your body. Lack of oxygen quickly affects organs throughout the body, including the brain and the heart. And even a little water in the lungs can cause serious lung problems in the next hours or days.

You will need to be in the hospital for testing and treatment. The doctor may order tests such as blood tests, X-rays, and other imaging tests like a CT scan or an MRI.

You may have a lot of tubes and wires attached to your body. Some of the tubes supply air, fluid, and medicines. The wires are hooked to machines that help the doctor keep track of your vital signs. These include temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate.

Non-fatal drowning can injure your brain and can be life-threatening. You may need special care, such as being in the intensive care unit (ICU). Your care team will watch you closely and make any needed changes in treatment right away.

How is it treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Help with breathing. A machine called a ventilator will gently push air into your lungs. You may have a tube down your throat that is attached to the ventilator.
  • Medicines to help prevent infection or to treat symptoms, such as seizures or pressure on the brain, if they occur. These may be given through a vein (IV).
  • Fluids or nutrition given through a vein (IV).
  • Supportive care. You will be watched carefully and given treatment to help prevent serious problems such as seizures and brain damage.

What can you expect after a non-fatal drowning?

How long it takes you to get better depends on many things, including how long you were underwater. It can take from a few days to many months.

You may have changes in how you think or concentrate. These symptoms get better over time in most people. But some people have lasting effects.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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