Drowning: Types, Symptoms, Treatment and Causes of Death


Drowning is a form of violent asphyxial death, wherein the entry of air into the lungs is prevented by water or other fluids due to the submersion of mouth and nostril.

Types of Drowning

Drowning is classified as follows:

1. Typical drowning:- 

It is further classified into
  • Fresh water drowning
  • Salt water drowning

2. Atypical drowning:-

It is classified into four types
  • Dry drowning
  • Immersion syndrome
  • Secondary drowning
  • Shallow water drowning


  • Drowning victims  are predominantly  male  (>  65%).  It occurs  in  the  summer  months,  more  frequently  seen in  rivers,  lakes,  ponds  and  creeks.
  • The  age  groups  affected  are  the  children  (<  4  years) And  young  adults  (15-24  years).  Drugs  and  alcohol abuse  among  the  teenagers  are  other  associated factors.

Causes of Death

  • Asphyxia:  Most  common  causes  of  death.
  • In  fresh  water  drowning,  death  results  from ventricular  fibrillation.  While  in  salt  water,  it  is  due to  cardiac  arrest  from  fulminant  pulmonary  edema and  associated  changes.
  • Vagal  inhibition  due  to  impact  with  the water.
  • Laryngeal  spasm. 
  • Concussion/head  injury. 
  • Apoplexy:  Subarachnoid  hemorrhage from  rupture of  Berry  aneurysm  or cerebral  hemorrhage  by rupture  of cerebral vessels  from  sudden  on-rush  of blood  to the  brain  due  to  excitement  or  sudden fall from  height  into  cold  water. 
  • Secondary  causes are Septic  aspiration, pneumonia, Sudden  bursting  of  an aneurysm.


Apart  from  recalling  of  the memory  of  past events,  there  may  be  mental  confusion along  with auditory  and  visual hallucinations,  tinnitus  and  vertigo. In wet  drowning,  there  is  chest  pain.


First  and  immediate  step  consists  of application  of  artificial  respiration  with closed  chest cardiac  massage,  even  in absence  of  pulse  and  respiration and irrespective  of  injuries  sustained  during drowning. A defibrillator  should  be  used when  there  is  ventricular fibrillation.

Fatal  period

  • Fresh  water  drowning:  4-5  min.27 
  • Sea  water  drowning:  8-12  min.


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