Each and every one of us knows water that gives us life is also capable of taking it away from us. Each year hundreds and thousands of people die because of drowning. Drowning statistics are pretty disturbing. The question is – ‘why the rate of deaths due to drowning is so alarmingly high?’ This is exactly what we intend to find out in this list of 15 interesting drowning facts. So, what are we going to learn in this article? Here is quick is of questions that will be answered in this list of drowning facts:
- Who are more susceptible to drowning?
- Why do we fail to recognize that people are drowning?
- What are the different types of drowning?
- Is drowning is salt water different than drowning in fresh water?
- What are the signs of drowning?
Now that we have a quick list of things we are about to learn, let us quickly get started with the list.
1. There is absolutely no reason to think that people can only drown in water. People can drown in other liquids too. For instance, oil! Drowning in industrial establishments usually occur by drowning in liquids other than water.
2. One does not need an enormous amount of water to drown. Contrary to the popular belief that drowning means getting submerged in large water bodies, drowning can actually happen in as little as 30 mm of water. Drowning actually means a person lying in water or any liquid with face down and dying because of water (or liquid).
3. Children can drown in toilets, buckets, baths, etc. An adult will usually not drown in a bucket or a toilet but that’s a possibility if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
4. “Wet drowning” is a type of drowning in which the water manages to enter the lungs. This isn’t so simple. Air tube is sealed the moment water enters airways preventing water from entering lungs. This happens because vocal cord and larynx constrict and block the air tube. This is when the water actually enters stomach. But as air tube is blocked, even air cannot enter lungs. This makes the person unconscious. Once unconscious, the air tube opens and water rushes into the lungs causing death.
5. We have something called “dry drowning”. Almost similar to wet drowning except that the air tube will stay shut and cause cardiac arrest and hence, death. In this case the person will die before water enters lungs. Once the person is dead, water will fail to enter lungs.
6. Then we have something called “secondary drowning”. Here, a person actually inhales a small amount of liquid (let us stick with water). Because of the small amount of water, a person will not die immediately. The water will only irritate lungs, triggering some physical responses. This small amount of water then gets extruded in the lungs and impairs gas exchange and leads to pulmonary edema and eventually causes death by respiratory failure. This can happen even due to poison gases or chemical and even vomit!
7. Deep water blackout is yet another type of drowning. When someone dives into water (breath-hold or free-dive), the oxygen present in lungs is capable of producing enough pressure to keep the person conscious. But this pressure starts falling as the person ascends from the depths of water and causes latent hypoxia (deprivation of adequate oxygen supply). Usually when a person arrives at or close to the surface, deep water blackout strikes because the person approaches normal atmospheric pressure. The moment the person loses consciousness, he or she sinks away! This is usually not a common occurrence and happens rarely usually to strong and fit swimmers who known for breath-hold diving.
8. Finally we have shallow water blackout. Just before diving or swimming, a person feels a strong urge to breathe, especially exhale. As a person exhales, CO2 level falls. Once in water, a person will not feel the strong urge to breathe in or inhale because the CO2 level is low but he or she will not realize that the brain is deprived of oxygen. Because the person is not aware of this oxygen shortage, he or she continues to swim only to faint all of a sudden and then sink. As before, shallow water blackout also happens during breath-hold dive but usually at smaller depths. Most common cases of shallow water blackout occur in swimming pools or shallow water bodies.
9. Drowning in salt water usually takes longer. When a drowning person inhales salt water, the salt concentration in lungs increases. It is then that water from blood rushes into the lungs to dilute the salt water. As a result, the blood thickens. When the blood thickens, heart comes under pressure and causes cardiac arrest. This takes about 8-10 minutes. This is why it is easier to rescue people drowning in salt water like sea or ocean because rescuers get enough time to prevent cardiac arrest by hydrating with fresh water.
10. Most of the drowning cases we read about are in rivers or lakes that are actually fresh water bodies. In case a person inhales fresh water during drowning, the water becomes hypotonic compared to tissues in the lungs. Put in simple words, the water in the lungs has low salt concentration compared to tissues in lungs. So, the water rushes into the cells to dilute the cells’ salt concentration. The red blood cells then burst, releasing hemoglobin which gets accumulated in kidneys, leading to acute renal failure. At the same time, the fresh water is also absorbed by bloodstream thereby diluting the blood and cooling the heart sufficient enough to cause hypothermia-induced cardiac arrest. This happens within 2-3 minutes. Thus, rescuers do not get enough time to save the victims.
11. It is not really easy to recognize a drowning person. We see in movies that a drowning person shouts and yells and calls for help while throwing out arms and legs in all possible directions. THAT IS BOGUS AND UNTRUE! Why is it so? Our respiratory system is designed to first breathe and then generate speech. So speech is secondary. So when a person drowns, his or her mouth usually sinks below the water surface and then resurfaces in very short successions. This gives the respiratory system just enough time to concentrate on its primary function, i.e. breathing. A person tries to quickly inhale and exhale. Yelling becomes literally impossible.
12. What about the frantic throwing of arms and legs in every direction? That too is IMPOSSIBLE. Out of instinct, a drowning person will extend his or her arms laterally trying to press down on water surface and keep their mouth out of water to continue breathing. This arm movement is completely involuntary and happens on its own. A drowning person cannot change this. So waving or throwing arms at get the attention of rescuers is literally impossible. This is called instinctive drowning response.
13. How about throwing legs? Let us ask a question. When can you throw your leg out of water while standing in water? The only possibility is that water level is below your waist unless of course you’re a super-flexible gymnast of sort who can lift a leg way above your head. When a person drowns, the body remains completely upright. A drowning person tries to push him or her out of water even using legs though that’s not really possible. This too is an involuntary and instinctive response. Kicking or throwing legs out of water is not possible at all! In case of true drowning, people really cannot help themselves even by reaching out for a rope or a ring thrown at them. Drowning is a very silent process contrary to what we see in movies.
14. A drowning person will usually show a few signs which most of us fail to recognize and think as if they are actually swimming. Usually the head of the person will be low in water with mouth at the level of water and occasionally sinking in and coming out of water. Eyes will become empty and glassy and will usually lose focus. Mouth may be open with head tilted backwards. He or she will usually be gasping with hands stretched laterally. It will appear as if he or she is trying to climb up a ladder that is invisible. Legs and arms will be mostly under water and any limb movement will be involuntary. Eyes will mostly be open and the face will reflect fear.
15. Children are more susceptible to drowning. They can drown even in presence of adults right next to them! So, it is important to keep an eye on them always and look for any signs of drowning.
So, now that you know these drowning facts, be vigilant. A person next to you in water may be drowning and drown ingloriously and silently. Take special care when children are in water.