Drowning Doesn’t Happen the Way It Does in the Movies
More People Drown Than You Think: Ten Per Day in the US
Ten people die every day from unintentional drowning in the United States, making it the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death. About 20% are under the age of 14. Nearly 80% are male.
Only about 35% of Americans know how to swim, and only 2% to 7% swim well. Teens are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and often go past their limits. Exhaustion or disorientation under water could cause a weak swimmer to panic.
In this case, the swimmer would go through the stages of what lifeguards call an “active drowning.” The word “active” may be misleading, as active drowning is nothing like what you usually see on TV.
In an active drowning, a swimmer is at or below eye level at the surface of the water for about 10 to 20 seconds. The head is tilted back to get air. The eyes are either wide open or tightly shut. The mouth is often in an “O” shape from shock. If you can call for help, you aren’t drowning.
After about 20 seconds, the victim will start to sink and will hold his breath underwater for anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. If rescued during this time, the swimmer usually will be fine.
After 90 seconds, a swimmer will black out. At this point, the outcome is hard to predict. If a swimmer is resuscitated after the four-minute mark, there’s a high risk of brain damage.
Typically, a person holding his breath will be triggered to breathe when his CO2 levels get high. But if a swimmer is holding his breath for a long time while exhaling underwater, or is going underwater repeatedly, his CO2 levels are lowered. When that happens, the brain’s built-in alarm to breathe doesn’t go off, despite a lack of oxygen.
More than half of drowning deaths in people older than 15 occur outside of pools, according to the CDC. And alcohol is involved in 70% of cases.
More information from CNN Health.