How to Perform CPR on a Drowning Victim

How to Perform CPR on a Drowning Victim

Let’s take a look at a step by step process on how to perform CPR on a drowning victim. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the US, with 4,000 fatal unintentional drownings per year on average, according to the CDC. That being said, it is also one of the most preventable deaths, as is evident by the 8,000 non-fatal unintentional drownings per year.

Drowning can be prevented by water safety measures, vigilant overwatch, and a good grasp of first aid procedures, especially CPR. 

Though the CPR process for drowning victims does not necessarily look different than the one for victims of cardiac arrest, there are certain crucial distinctions. For example, both adult men and children are more likely to drown, and the CPR procedures for both demographics differ.

Keep reading to learn all about how to perform CPR on a drowning victim.

Step-by-step CPR on a Drowning Victim

There are certain steps that you have to take after a water rescue in order to ensure the victim has the best possible chances of survival. But before doing anything else, you should always contact first responders so that the person who drowned can be taken to a hospital where professionals will take over their care.

Make Sure You and the Victim Are on a Safe Surface

Before you start administering CPR and trying to save a victim of underwater submersion, it is crucial that both the victim and yourself are away from the water. Do not start the CPR procedure near the water, where both of you can be hit by a wave and drawn in. 

Once you have placed the victim on a dry and flat surface, you should call 911. Then you should begin to perform CPR on the drowning victim. 

Tilt Their Head Back

When it comes to drowning victims, you must assume that their airways are filled with water, which is why you need to tilt their heads back and open their mouths. This will enable you to see whether there are any visible obstructions to their airway and clear them out if there are.

Give 5 Rescue Breaths

The biggest difference between regular CPR and CPR for drowning victims is in oxygenation. People who have been underwater for a certain period lack oxygen, even more so if their airways are filled with water. That is why the first thing you need to do is blow 5 strong breaths into their mouth, also known as rescue breathing.

This is a fairly simple step. All you need to do is clamp the nose of the victim and blow 5 times in the span of 10 seconds. If unsure whether this step has worked, keep an eye out on the victim’s chest. When the chest inflates or rises, you can start the next step.

Chest Compressions

Chest compressions are the step that we associate with CPR most strongly. To start compressions, you need to place the heel of one hand on the lower portion of the sternum and interlock the fingers of the other hand with the heel of the first. 

Start by doing 30 compressions followed by 2 ventilations. The compressions should match a heart rate of 100 bpm. If you are having trouble timing the compressions, you can do it to the beat of a song such as Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. 

Use an Automated External Defibrillator

A defibrillator, more commonly known as an AED, is a portable electronic device that automatically detects the irregular heart rate of a person and administers the necessary electrical shock. The AED is designed to shock the victim’s heart into a regular beating pattern.

Administering CPR with the help of a defibrillator is quite simple, as they are designed to be accessible to lay people. Before you connect the electrodes to the victim’s chest, make sure that the person isn’t lying in a pool of water and that their chest is dry. Once the electrodes are connected and the AED is charged, you will be instructed to stand back.

Ensure that neither you nor anyone else in the vicinity is touching the victim when the AED is administering the electric shock. 

No Signs of Life? Keep Going

If the drowning victim still hasn’t regained consciousness or hasn’t started breathing on their own, keep repeating the compressions and ventilation cycle until first responders can get to the scene. Your only goal is to keep the victim alive long enough for professionals to do a medical intervention.

Lack of blood in organs, especially the brain, can cause fatal consequences. So, by continuing the CPR procedure, you ensure that the blood circulation does not stop throughout the body. If you start to feel fatigued, then it is best to ask another person on the scene to take over the CPR procedure. 

How to Perform CPR on a Drowning Victim With Hypothermia 

Hypothermia is the condition that occurs after the human body has been exposed to freezing temperatures for an extended period. Common symptoms in unconscious people include lower body temperature than 82.4 Fahrenheit, non-responsive pupils, and lack of heartbeat. 

When trying to resuscitate a victim of cold water immersion, you should not try to warm their limbs up first. Instead, keep administering CPR in order to maintain blood circulation and try to warm their body simultaneously.

What to Do When the Drowning Victim Starts Breathing After Performing CPR

More often than not, when a drowning victim regains consciousness and control of their airway, they will instinctively cough out the water. In certain cases, victims are known to even vomit. 

However, just because a person has started breathing on their own does not mean you can leave them without oversight. Even if the victim is conscious and breathing, they might not be lucid or strong enough to stay awake.

That is why, once you are certain the drowning victim is breathing on their own, you should turn them to their side with their arm and leg propping them up, make sure their airways are clear, and stay with them. Keep them engaged and awake until the first responders reach you, if possible. 

If the victim loses consciousness again, there is no need to panic as long as they are breathing independently.

What Do I Do If the Victim Starts Choking?

You should turn the person on their side and prop their head up. The next step is to remove the cause for obstruction – which is water in most cases – from their airway.

Relay Information to the First Responders

There are numerous conditions and potential threats that can appear as a result of a near-drowning experience. That is why, regardless of when they arrive, first responders must have all the information for transport to the hospital. 

So, make sure to inform the first responders about the time the victim spent underwater, what you did in the CPR process, and how long you administered it before they reached you. In doing so, you enable them to provide the victim with the best possible care and relay that same information to the medical professionals who will treat the victim in the hospital. 

How Do I Know If a Drowning Victim Is Okay Before and After Performing CPR?

You should primarily check for breathing and heartbeat. If you can’t ascertain whether the victim is breathing on their own, lower your ear to their mouth and nose and listen and feel for their breaths. Additionally, press your fingers to their neck or wrist to check their heartbeat.

Conclusion: How to Perform CPR on a Drowning Victim

Witnessing a drowning can be a traumatic experience; however, you should try to stay calm and level-headed. Keeping up-to-date with your CPR certification will guarantee that you are prepared to respond in an adequate manner in such a situation.

When it comes to victims of drowning, the key to a positive outcome is to react quickly. Go through all the CPR steps calmly but swiftly in order to ensure that the victim’s blood and oxygen start circulating as soon as possible.