In most cases, drowning could have been prevented if simple safety precautions were taken.
The term "drowning" is used when a person dies due to a lack of oxygen to the heart and brain. "Near drowning" is when a person has survived after having suffocated in water or another fluid.

Near drowning damages the respiratory system and can cause a build up of fluid in the lungs after recovery. This could lead to pneumonia or even a fatal condition called "late drowning".

Sadly hundreds of South Africans are victims of drowning each year.

Children (especially 1-3 year-olds) are most at risk, and supervision is therefore always needed if your child is near water. Even five centimetres of water could pose a risk for a small child. Because of the disproportionate weight of their heads, toddlers can easily topple over and find it difficult to lift their heads to breathe.

It may not always be obvious that your child is in trouble as she may be struggling to breathe and unable to call for help. Suspect trouble if her strokes become erratic and jerky or stop. Or if the body sinks so that only the head shows above the water.

Spinal injuries are common in diving accidents and should always be suspected.

  • Absent, rapid or laboured breathing
  • Coughing
  • Cyanosis (bluish colour)
  • Vomiting
  • Pale, cool skin
  • Decreased level of consciousness
  • Rapid, weak, slow or absent pulse
  • Swollen stomach
Get help immediately if:
  • Your child is not breathing
  • Your child is unconscious
  • You suspect a spinal injury

Home treatment
  • The first principle is safety. Never try to rescue your child if it will endanger your life. Rather call for help.
  • If you suspect a spinal injury and CPR is not required, don't move her to land. Keep her lying face up until help arrives. The water will immobilise the spine. If she has to be moved, slide a board under her head, back and buttocks, taking care to keep the head and neck in alignment.
  • If she is not breathing but has a pulse, perform mouth-to-mouth breathing immediately. Don't waste time by trying to drain swallowed water. If she starts breathing again, she is likely to vomit. Place her on her side with her head lower than her torso to clear the airway. If she has a spinal injury, take care to keep the head and neck in alignment at all times.
  • If she has no pulse, place her on a hard surface and do CPR taking care not to extend the head backwards.
  • Place her in the recovery position if there are no spinal injuries.
  • Keep her warm and treat for hypothermia if necessary.

Call a doctor if:
Someone has nearly drowned even if he has recovered completely.

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