Other Names:
Submersion in water

Drowning is a type of suffocation induced by the submersion or immersion of the mouth and nose in a liquid. Most instances of fatal drowning occur alone or in situations where others present are either unaware of the victim's situation or unable to offer assistance. After successful resuscitation, drowning victims may experience breathing problems, vomiting, confusion, or unconsciousness. Occasionally, victims may not begin experiencing these symptoms for several hours after they are rescued. An incident of drowning can also cause further complications for victims due to low body temperature, aspiration of vomit, or acute respiratory distress syndrome (respiratory failure from lung inflammation).

Drowning is more likely to happen when spending extended periods of time near large bodies of water. Risk factors for drowning include a lack of training or attention to children, alcohol or drug use, epilepsy, and lack of higher education, which is often accompanied by diminished or non-existent swimming skills. Common drowning locations include natural and man-made bodies of water, bathtubs, swimming pools, and even buckets and toilets.

Drowning occurs when an individual spends too much time with their nose and mouth submerged in a liquid to the point of being unable to breathe. If this is not followed by an exit to the surface, low oxygen levels and excess carbon dioxide in the blood trigger a neurological state of breathing emergency, which results in increased physical distress and occasional contractions of the vocal folds. Significant amounts of water usually only enter the lungs later in the process.

While the word "drowning" is commonly associated with fatal results, drowning may be classified into three different types: drowning with death, drowning with ongoing health problems, and drowning with no ongoing health problems. Sometimes the term "near-drowning" is used in the latter cases. Among children who survive, poor outcomes occur in about 7.5% of cases.

Steps to prevent drowning include: teaching children and adults to swim and to recognise unsafe water conditions; never swimming alone, use of personal flotation devices on boats and when swimming in unfavourable conditions; limiting or removing access to water, such as with fencing of swimming pools; and exercising appropriate supervision. Treatment of victims who are not breathing should begin with opening the airway and providing five breaths of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is recommended for a person whose heart has stopped beating and has been underwater for less than an hour.


A major contributor to drowning is the inability to swim. Other contributing factors include the state of the water itself, distance from a solid footing, physical impairment, or prior loss of consciousness. Anxiety brought on by fear of drowning or water itself can lead to exhaustion, thus increasing the chances of drowning.

Approximately 90% of drownings take place in freshwater (rivers, lakes, and a relatively small number of swimming pools); the remaining 10% take place in seawater. Drownings in other fluids are rare, and often related to industrial accidents. In New Zealand's early colonial history, so many settlers died while trying to cross the rivers that drowning was called "the New Zealand death."

People have drowned in as little as 30 mm of water while lying face down. Children have drowned in baths, buckets, and toilets. People who are inebriated or otherwise intoxicated can drown in puddles.

Death can occur due to complications following an initial drowning. Inhaled fluid can act as an irritant inside the lungs. Even small quantities can cause the extrusion of liquid into the lungs (pulmonary edema) over the following hours; this reduces the ability to exchange the air and can lead to a person "drowning in their own body fluid." Vomit and certain poisonous vapors or gases (as in chemical warfare) can have a similar effect. The reaction can take place up to 72 hours after the initial incident and may lead to a serious injury or death.

Narrower Problems:
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Problem Type:
G: Very specific problems
Date of last update
23.12.2017 – 17:22 CET