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Skills: CPR for Drowning Victims

Learn how to save a life if an emergency arises on the water.

By Justin Sempsrott

Summer’s here, so many of us will be heading to rivers, lakes, the beach or a backyard pool to cool off. Anytime people are near water, there is a risk of drowning.

The best treatment, of course, is to prevent a drowning from ever happening by implementing layers of safety: swim lessons, constant supervision, life jackets, pool fences and gates in working order, boating education, avoidance of alcohol and many other factors. Drowning incidents can occur when there is a momentary lapse in any one of these layers.

Once a drowning incident occurs, the final layer of protection is performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The science of CPR has advanced considerably in the last decade. Different causes of cardiac arrest require different strategies for treatment and different approaches to CPR. It’s important to know the difference. Broadly, there are two main types of CPR:

  1. Compression-only CPR, also known as “hands-only” CPR.
  2. CPR with breaths and compressions.

Approximately one-fourth of the 326,000 cardiac arrests each year are caused by irregular heartbeats that occur suddenly. When the heartbeat suddenly becomes irregular, the person loses consciousness almost immediately. When the person collapses, there is still oxygen in the blood that can be circulated until the heart can be defibrillated back into a normal rhythm. Call 911 and immediately start doing chest compressions until first responders or an automated external defibrillator (AED) arrives. Because there is oxygen still in the blood, there is no need to give mouth-to-mouth or rescue breaths.

In the case of drowning, if the heart stops or a person loses consciousness, then the person must be treated differently. While the person is unconscious or underwater, oxygen levels continue to drop until the heart can no longer sustain itself. When the person is rescued, it is critical that he or she receives both chest compressions AND rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth). If you perform chest compressions alone, you are circulating blood that contains no oxygen.

In addition to drowning cases, this is true for most children who require CPR. Because their hearts are usually healthy, cardiac arrest occurs because their oxygen levels are low; they need breaths and compressions.

Giving mouth-to-mouth or any form of rescue breathing is difficult. If you administer the breaths incorrectly, the air can end up in the victim’s stomach. This dangerous situation prevents critical oxygen from getting to the lungs and increases the chance of vomiting. These are some of the reasons why mouth-to-mouth was removed from the most basic CPR classes.

If you have children and a swimming pool or spend a lot of time on a boat with children, it’s critical that you take a class that includes child and infant CPR, as these include training on the correct technique for mouth-to-mouth, and discuss the difference in treating drowning victims in greater detail.

Find more information art www.LifeguardsWithoutBorders.org


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