Background: Because children have less subcutaneous fat, and a higher surface area to body weight ratio than adults, it has been suggested that children cool more rapidly during submersion, and therefore have a better outcome following near-drowning incidents.
Aim of the study: To study the impact of age, submersion time, water temperature and rectal temperature in the emergency room on outcome in near-drowning.
Material and methods: This retrospective study included all near-drowning victims admitted to the intensive care units of Helsinki University Central Hospital after successful cardiopulmonary resuscitation between 1985 and 1997.
Results: There were 61 near-drowning victims (age range: 0.5-60 years, median 29 years). Males were in the majority (40), and 26 were children (<16 years). The median water temperature was 17 degrees C (range: 0-33 degrees C). The median submersion time for the 43 survivors (70%) was 10 min (range: 1-38 min). Intact survivors and those with mild neurological disability (n=26, 43%) had a median submersion time of 5 min (range: 1-21 min). In non-survivors the median submersion time was 16 min (range: 2-75 min). Submersion time was the only independent predictor of survival in linear regression analysis (P<0.01). Patient age, water temperature and rectal temperature in the emergency room were not significant predictors of survival.
Conclusions: Although submersion time is usually an estimate, it is the best prognostic factor after a near drowning incident. Children did not have a better outcome than adults.