Submersion Injuries


  • Submersion (sub-MER-zhun) injuries are conditions caused by not being able to breathe under any liquid substance, such as water. Liquids entering the lungs may prevent the victim from getting enough air and the brain from getting enough oxygen. Water rescue is when the victim remains alert after a submersion or immersion injury. The victim may have temporary (short-term) symptoms like coughing that clears up quickly. Near-drowning is when the victim survives but has more serious symptoms after an immersion or submersion injury. Drowning is caused by a long period of immersion or submersion that leads to death of the victim. Taking alcohol or drugs, or having a heart attack, seizures (convulsions), or accidents may increase your risk for submersion injuries.

  • Victims of submersion injuries may have trouble breathing, may be vomiting (throwing up), confused, and loose consciousness. Complications may include pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), hypothermia and brain damage. A complete physical examination will be done by the caregiver to diagnose submersion injuries. Tests, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), glucose testing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and radiographs may be used to check for other problems. Treatment may include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), oxygen, medicines for infection and pain, and endotracheal tube insertion. Early CPR may increase the chances of survival of the submersion victim. Treating submersion injuries as soon as possible may decrease possible complications.


Take your medicine as directed.

Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your healthcare provider. Do not stop taking your medicine unless directed by your healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.

  • Pain medicine: You may need medicine to take away or decrease pain.

    • Learn how to take your medicine. Ask what medicine and how much you should take. Be sure you know how, when, and how often to take it.

    • Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease.

    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.


You may need extra oxygen to help you breathe easier. It may be given through a plastic mask over your mouth and nose. It may be given through a nasal cannula, or prongs, instead of a mask. A nasal cannula is a pair of short, thin tubes that rest just inside your nose. Tell your caregiver if your nose gets dry or if you get redness or sores on your skin. Never smoke or let anyone else smoke in the same room while your oxygen is on. Doing so may cause a fire.

Wellness tips:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: This may help you have more energy and heal faster. Healthy foods include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

  • Drink liquids as directed: Adults should drink between 9 and 13 eight-ounce cups of liquid every day. Ask what amount is best for you. For most people, good liquids to drink are water, juice, and milk.

  • Get plenty of exercise: Talk to your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can decrease your blood pressure and improve your health.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. You are more likely to have heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and other health problems if you smoke. Quitting smoking will improve your health and the health of those around you. If you smoke, ask for information about how to stop.

  • Manage stress: Stress may slow healing and cause illness. Learn new ways to relax, such as deep breathing.

For more information:

For more information regarding submersion injuries and adult drowning, contact the following:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address:


  • You have a fever.

  • You have chills, cough or feel weak and achy.

  • You have questions or concerns regarding your medicines and care.


  • You have trouble breathing all of a sudden.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Submersion Injuries (Discharge Care)