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Ann Emerg Med. 1993 Feb;22(2 Pt 2):366-9.

Drowning issues in resuscitation.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle.


Submersion injury is so often lethal because it inflicts severe hypoxia. To prevent hypoxic end-organ damage to the heart and brain, the goals of resuscitation are immediate ventilation and oxygenation. Issue 1: Should submersion victims receive the Heimlich maneuver? The pathophysiologic assumptions for this intervention are that water in the airway is obstructive, thus precluding ventilation, and that aspiration of water is the major injury. Anecdotal case reports describe improved ventilation of some victims who failed prior ventilatory efforts. However, animal and human studies support that aspirated water is rapidly absorbed, does not preclude ventilation and intubation, and is best treated rapidly with positive pressure ventilation. With inadequate data to support benefit from the Heimlich maneuver and concern that the Heimlich maneuver would delay initiation of ventilation, basic life support procedures are recommended in managing the airway of the submersion victim. Issue 2: What is the role of prehospital care? Outcomes of submersion victims treated with rapid, aggressive prehospital care show that the window for medical intervention for the submersion victim is in the prehospital setting, not in the emergency department or intensive care unit. The submersion victim should be provided advanced cardiac life support, including intubation as needed, as soon as possible.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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