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Near-Drowning Injuries in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What are near-drowning injuries?

Near-drowning injuries occur when your child has been unable to breathe after being under water. Liquid enters his lungs and prevents him from getting enough oxygen.

What increases your child's risk of near-drowning injuries?

  • Lack of supervision near water, such as baths, swimming pools, or buckets of water
  • Lack of or proper fencing around pools
  • Doing water activities, such as boating, without a life jacket
  • Inability to swim
  • Teenagers using alcohol or drugs while swimming or boating

What are the signs and symptoms of near-drowning injuries?

  • Swollen abdomen, nausea, or vomiting
  • Bluish skin
  • Confusion, trouble thinking or remembering, or loss of consciousness
  • Coughing, increased breathing, shortness of breath, or wheezing
  • Fast or slow heartbeat
  • Weak or absent pulse

What health problems can happen after near-drowning injuries?

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a sudden and very serious condition that occurs when the lungs swell and fill with liquid. This condition causes severe shortness of breath and may lead to respiratory failure. Respiratory failure means your child cannot breathe well enough to get oxygen to the cells of his body.
  • Brain edema is swelling caused by fluid buildup. It may be caused by brain cell damage that occurs from a lack of oxygen for a long period.
  • Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when your child's body temperature drops too low for a long period of time. Organ failure may develop and cause death.
  • Pneumonia is a lung infection that may occur after a near-drowning.

How are near-drowning injuries diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will do a physical exam. He will also ask how the near-drowning injury happened and how long your child was under water. The following tests may also be done:

  • Arterial blood gases (ABG) show oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Blood is taken from a vein in your child's wrist, arm, or groin.
  • Blood and urine tests can get information about your child's overall health.
  • An EEG , or electroencephalogram, shows the electrical activity of your child's brain. Small pads or metal discs are put on the head. Each has a wire that is hooked to a machine. This machine prints a paper tracing of brain wave activity from different parts of the brain.
  • A chest x-ray may show lung problems, such as pneumonia, collapsed lungs, or ARDS.
  • A CT scan may show brain edema. Your child may be given a dye before the scan. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How are near-drowning injuries treated?

Lay person cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) must be done as soon as possible. CPR is used when a person stops breathing and his heart has stopped beating. Lay person refers to anyone who is not a trained healthcare worker. After CPR has been done, your child must be taken to an emergency department. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Oxygen may be given if your child's blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. He may get oxygen through a mask placed over his nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in his nostrils. Ask before taking off the mask or oxygen tubing.
  • An endotracheal tube (ET) may be placed into your child's windpipe to help keep his airway open and help him breathe. It may be connected to a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that provides oxygen and breathes for your child when he cannot breathe well on his own. Your child will not be able to talk while the ET tube is in place.
  • Medicines may be given to prevent or treat a bacterial lung infection. Glucose may be given to raise blood sugar.

How can near-drowning injuries be prevented?

  • Private pools should be fenced in all 4 sides block off the pool.
  • Children should never be left unattended when in or close to water.
  • Pool owners, parents, and childcare providers should have CPR training.
  • Swimming lessons for children can improve swimming abilities and water rescue.
  • Use of life jackets is recommended for all children while boating or doing water activities.
  • When swimming in open water, stay close to areas where life guards are visible.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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