Near drowning

Crit Care Clin. 1999 Apr;15(2):281-96. doi: 10.1016/s0749-0704(05)70055-5.


Submersion accidents continue to be a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in children and adults. The key to successful management is prevention of these accidents. Proactive efforts to minimize submersion accidents in the community should be made by medical and legislative groups. Anticipatory guidance by primary care physicians, particularly for families and individuals at increased risk, should be performed. Outcomes of individuals who have become victims of submersion accidents can be optimized by the development of a rapid response system, because successful initial resuscitation efforts clearly improve outcomes. For individuals who have nearly drowned and who have arrived in the emergency department, a systematic and aggressive approach needs to be followed with particular emphasis on cardiorespiratory support to optimize neurologic outcome. Despite many studies aimed at developing predictors of outcomes, there is limited information that can be used in a prospective manner to guide the emergency-room physician in limiting the level of interventions. Thus, all aggressive supportive care and resuscitation should be performed at this stage, except in clearly futile situations. Once patients arrive in the ICU, meticulous care, including monitoring of cardiorespiratory and neurologic status and attention to electrolytes and acid-base status, needs to be continued. Besides providing basic supportive measures, the ICU physician should investigate for other associated trauma and medical conditions that may need to be addressed once the patient is stabilized. Patients who have nearly drowned are likely to have long ICU stays, predisposing them to nosocomial infections. Despite efforts at minimizing barotrauma and volutrauma, many patients who have nearly drowned and who need ventilatory support may develop ARDS. The management of these patients is similar to other patients who have ARDS. However, strategies like permissive hypercapnia that are used commonly in patients who have ARDS may not be suitable in patients who have CNS injury. Despite aggressive care, neurologic injury with long-term sequelae secondary to hypoxic ischemic injury remains a major problem in the management of victims of submersion accidents. It is important for the clinician to keep the pathophysiologic and cellular mechanisms of CNS injury in mind, because future interventions are likely to be based on these pathways. Besides providing care for the patient, it is important for the ICU physician to be sensitive to the needs of the family and to support them through this catastrophe that is likely to place a tremendous financial and emotional burden on most of them.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Emergency Treatment
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Near Drowning* / physiopathology
  • Near Drowning* / therapy
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration
  • Prognosis
  • Resuscitation
  • Treatment Outcome