What is the relevant patient history of drowning?

Updated: Jun 19, 2019
  • Author: G Patricia Cantwell, MD, FCCM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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All aspects of the drowning episode should be determined, including the circumstances around the actual submersion. Rarely does a patient present with the classic "Hollywood scenario" of a novice swimmer stranded in water, frantically struggling and flapping his or her arms in desperation. Experienced swimmers may experience syncope secondary to hypoxia after hyperventilating to drive off carbon dioxide, while deep-water divers may succumb to "shallow-water blackout" as they ascend.

Most persons are found after having been submerged in water for an unobserved period.

Typical incidents involve a toddler left unattended temporarily or under the supervision of an older sibling, an adolescent found floating in the water, or a victim diving and not resurfacing. Less typically, drowning may be a deliberate form of child abuse and infant homicide, including Munchhausen syndrome by proxy.

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