• Vol. 27 No. 3, 344–346
  • 15 May 1998

A Retrospective Study of Near-drowning Victims Admitted to the Intensive Care Unit



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A retrospective study was conducted to evaluate the outcome of near-drowning patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) comparing seawater and freshwater drownings. A chart review was used to identify near-drowning patients admitted to ICU from 1 April 1989 to 1 May 1996 for biodata, physiological data and outcome. Seventeen near-drowning patients were admitted to ICU over a period of nearly 7 years. There were 3 deaths (17.6%) and 8 patients (47%) required cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Freshwater near-drowning occurred in 8 patients and saltwater near-drowning occurred in 9 patients. Nearly all (94%) the patients had a PaO2FiO2 ratio <300 mm Hg. Pulmonary oedema was present on the chest radiographs of all patients. Mechanical ventilation was required for 8 patients (47%), and nearly all (94%) received prophylactic antibiotics. None of the patients developed pneumonia. Serum electrolytes and haemoglobin concentration were not grossly abnormal although, those with saltwater near-drowning had a significantly higher level of haemoglobin, sodium and urea compared to those with freshwater near-drowning. Patients that survived to hospital discharge had full neurological recovery and stayed an average of 4.5 days. We concluded that near-drowning victims that survive to be admitted to ICU have significant oxygenation defect with nearly half requiring ventilatory support. Mortality is appreciable, but those that survive to hospital discharge had full neurological recovery.

Drowning victims suffocate from submersion. This may lead to immediate death or, if they survive, brain damage if significant cerebral hypoxia is present.

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