Did you know that drowning is not necessarily fatal, and that even when it is, death can occur several hours or even days after a person undergoes immersion or submersion in water.
In Canada, statistics show that over 450 deaths each year are water-related and avoidable. Surprisingly, the individuals most at risk are not young children, but rather young adults (ages 20 to 34) and the elderly (age 65 and older). Most drowning victims are men (between 2009 and 2013, an average of 385 men died by drowning, compared to 88 women).
Drowning is defined as respiratory impairment from being submerged or immersed in a liquid. Submersion refers to cases where only part of the body is in the water, whereas immersion refers to the whole body being under water. In cases of submersion, the face must be under water or another liquid, making it impossible for the person to breathe.
Drowning can be fatal or non-fatal, and people who survive drowning may suffer ongoing health problems. The severity of those problems can vary greatly and tends to be related to the amount of time during which the brain is deprived of oxygen. The longer that period is, the higher the risk of serious health consequences.
In rarer cases, individuals may appear to suffer no consequences from the original immersion or submersion, but then develop complications a few hours or days later. For example, an infection or inflammation may develop in the lungs if the person inhaled contaminated water or water containing chemicals during the drowning incident.
Even if the drowning event only lasts a few moments and the person appears to be back to normal, it’s important to remain vigilant in the following hours and days. Promptly seek medical care if any symptoms appear or persist, such as a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting, headaches, confusion or overall weakness.