How does water temperature contribute to drowning?

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

Thermal conduction of water is 25-30 times that of air. The temperature of thermally neutral water, in which a nude individual's heat production balances heat loss, is 33°C. Physical exertion increases heat loss secondary to convection/conduction up to 35-50% faster.

A significant risk of hypothermia usually develops in water temperatures less than 25°C, which is the temperature found in most US natural waters during the majority of the year.

During immersion in ice water, a person will become hypothermic in approximately 30 minutes. Cooling at this temperature becomes life-threatening in approximately 60 minutes. [73, 74]


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