Near-drowning and secondary drowning

Drowning is defined as death within 24 hours from suffocation by submersion in a liquid, normally fresh water or sea water.

Near drowning implies successful resuscitation from suffocation caused by immersion.

Secondary drowning refers to fluid accumulation in the lungs following what appears to be successful recovery from a near-drowning event.

If someone suffocates while submerged underwater and are revived they can suffer from near-drowning while secondary drowning can still occur even after they are revived.

This can occur in someone that becomes tired while swimming or have a secondary problem that prevents them from swimming appropriately or aspirating fluid while in the water.

If you find someone submerged in water, immediately remove them from the water, ensuring that you keep yourself safe.  Place them on their back and assess for breathing.  If they are breathing, place them in the recovery position and call the Emergency Services. If they are not breathing, start CPR.

People that do not lose consciousness but may have ingested a large amount of water should still be assessed by a Doctor as they may have secondary drowning.  Lung injury and potentially life-threatening electrolyte disturbances may occur from aspiration or ingestion of large amounts of water, whether it is from a pool or salt or fresh water.

Secondary drowning happens when the airway opens up letting water into the lungs where it builds up causing a condition called Pulmonary Edema. This causes trouble breathing.

Symptoms of secondary drowning generally start within 1-24 hours of the incident. Secondary drowning symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling extremely tired

If you have oxygen available it should be given to keep their oxygen levels at the required level and to compensate for any lack in the performance of the respiratory system.

For more information on First Aid training courses visit ProTrainings website.


ProTrainings Europe was set up by to offer classroom training nationally and video e-learning to enable students to learn using different media. We believe training should never end when the course finishes so whether a class course, video online or blended we offer a host of extra resources to continue training long after the course finishes.

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