Explore The Science Of Drowning And It's Impact
Home » CPR Certification » The Science of Drowning: What Happens to the Body Underwater?
The Science of Drowning: What Happens to the Body Underwater?

The Science of Drowning: What Happens to the Body Underwater?

The science of drowning throws light on the complexities that arise when a body is submerged in water. Drowning incidents can be life threatening without timely intervention and proper surveillance. When an individual drowns, a series of chain reactions take place in the body. In the US, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury related death. It is important to take precautionary measures to stop the numbers from increasing. In this blog we will delve into the topic of what happens when you drown and the science behind it.

How long does it take to drown?

The time taken for drowning can vary depending on several factors. The victim’s physiology, fitness level, and water conditions can impact the time. It is a common misconception that drowning only takes a minute and is a quick and silent process. But it is not so. In most cases, a victim might lose consciousness within 2 minutes of drowning. Between the next 4 to 6 minutes, permanent brain damage can happen without oxygen.

If emergency CPR is not administered, drowning can be fatal. Please note that drowning doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of noise. It can be exceptionally silent in cases of “dry drowning” or “delayed drowning”. In such cases, water enters the airways causing immediate choking.

What happens immediately after drowning?

After drowning the immediate aftermath can result in a complicated reaction of physiological responses. Let’s go through the immediate post submersion effects on a human body-

  • Cessation of Breathing: Upon submersion, the body’s natural response is to hold its breath. However, as oxygen becomes depleted, breathing ceases.
  • Hypoxia: With the interruption of breathing, the body experiences oxygen deprivation, leading to hypoxia, a condition where the tissues are starved of oxygen.
  • Loss of Consciousness: Deprivation of oxygen to the brain results in a rapid loss of consciousness, often occurring within a few minutes of submersion.
  • Bradycardia: The heart rate slows down (bradycardia) as part of the diving reflex, redistributing blood flow to essential organs. However, prolonged oxygen deprivation can compromise cardiac function.
  • Potential Aspiration of Water: In some cases, water may enter the airways during submersion, leading to the risk of aspiration pneumonia, a condition where inflammation and infection occur in the lungs.

Read More: The Objective of First Aid

What are the immediate actions to be taken after someone drowns?

Immediate response in the case of drowning is extremely critical. Irreversible damages in cases of drowning can be quick and silent, hence timely intervention is crucial. Below are the immediate actions that needs to be performed when someone drowns-

Time Sensitivity: The first few minutes after a drowning incident are critical. Prompt initiation of rescue and resuscitation efforts significantly improves the chances of survival and minimizes the risk of long-term complications.

CPR and Emergency Care: Immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can help restore oxygen circulation to vital organs. Emergency medical assistance should be sought without delay. Enroll in a comprehensive CPR certification.

What does drowning feel like?

Describing the sensation of drowning is challenging. The experience of drowning is a mix of emotional and physical trauma. Below are the common experiences and sensation faced by individuals who witnessed drowning-

  • Panic and Fear: Drowning is typically associated with a profound sense of panic and fear. The instinct to breathe is strong, and the inability to do so underwater intensifies the emotional response.
  • Air Hunger: As oxygen becomes depleted, a desperate need for air, known as air hunger, sets in. This creates a distressing sensation, heightening the overall feeling of suffocation.
  • Disorientation: In the struggle to stay afloat, disorientation is common. The lack of air and the fight against submersion contribute to a chaotic and disorienting experience.
  • Silent Nature: Contrary to depictions in media, drowning is often a quiet event. Victims may be unable to call for help, making it imperative for bystanders to recognize signs of distress.
  • Exhaustion: The physical effort to stay above water becomes exhausting quickly. Fatigue sets in, further compromising the ability to stay afloat.
  • Involuntary Breath-Holding: Despite the overwhelming urge to breathe, the body’s instinctual response is to hold the breath underwater. This involuntary action can contribute to a sense of helplessness.
  • Potential Loss of Consciousness: In cases where oxygen deprivation persists, there may be a loss of consciousness, marking a critical stage in the drowning process.

Read More:  What is a Cardiac Massage?


The science of drowning and what happens when you drown are topics that are constantly being delved into. The event of drowning is more than just a physical challenge. It impacts a person’s mental well-being by emotionally scarring the victim. Even though immediate emergency response like CPR can help save lives, prevention is always better than cure.

The immediate aftermath of drowning consists of a cascade of events. It is a complex interplay of physical responses and emotional turmoil. Recognizing the signs of distress can help provide immediate help to the victim. As we navigate through the intricacies surrounding drowning, it becomes clear that fostering a culture of preparedness and swift response is critical.


    Follow Us
    Search Here
    Select Courses
    Recent Posts

    American CPR Care Association is rated 4.7 out of 5 based on 48,237 ratings.
    All content Copyright 2024 © – American CPR Care Association. All rights reserved.