Which risk factors are associated with drowning?

Updated: Jun 19, 2019
  • Author: G Patricia Cantwell, MD, FCCM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
  • Print

The drowning site appears to be a function of availability. In areas of the world where bathing occurs in nearby streams, rivers, and lakes, data collected suggest that the incidence is [26, 31] more similar to that found in industrialized nations in the adolescent and young adult groups (aged 15-24 y), where most incidents occur in natural bodies of water.

Hong et al suggest that this risk is due not only to rural residence and lower socioeconomic status but also to the education level of parents, which would suggest that targeted public health intervention strategies might prove to be effective in decreasing this incidence. [31, 32]

Boating and related water sports, combined with alcohol consumption, increase both the likelihood and severity of submersion injuries. Risk-taking behaviors, especially in males, are similarly associated with increased morbidity and mortality.

An Australian study that focused on drowning risks at surf beaches found that in the 204 individuals studied, adolescent and adult males spent longer amounts of time in the water, were more likely to use surfing equipment, were more likely to consume more alcoholic beverages, and spent more time in deeper water. The authors hypothesized that over-representation of males in drowning statistics is in part a function of this greater exposure to deeper waters further from shore. [33]

Males also generally feel more confident about their swimming abilities and their ability to return to shore if caught in a rip current. [34]

The authors found no gender difference in the likelihood of holding a first aid qualification, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, or prior swimming lesson participation. They suggested that larger, controlled studies should address the role of overconfidence, self-rated versus measured swimming competency, surf experience, ability to judge swimming conditions, and the use of flotation devices in relation to drowning risk. [34]

This later study provided somewhat different data from that in a previous, smaller 2008 study by Morgan et al that indicated no difference in gender or age on likely surf-drowning risk, including preexisting medical conditions, presence of drugs or alcohol, or the likelihood of swimming without a buddy or in rip current conditions. [35]

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!