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Brain Injuries Due to Near Drowning

author image Marie Cheour
Marie Cheour had her first article published in 1995, and she has since published more than 40 articles in peer-reviewed publications such as "Nature" and "Nature Neuroscience." She has worked as a college professor in Europe and in the United States. Cheour has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Helsinki.
Brain Injuries Due to Near Drowning
Two empty chairs on a dock facing a quiet lake. Photo Credit: Jon Feingersh/Blend Images/Getty Images

Although insufficient reporting makes it difficult to form accurate estimates, 15,000 to 70,000 near-drowning accidents are said to occur in the United States yearly, says Most victims are either young children between the ages of 1 and 4 or young men. Nearly 50 percent of the young men who had a drowning accident were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if a person survives a drowning accident, the outcome can be devastating.

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Brain Hypoxia

Brain hypoxia results from a lack of oxygen to the brain. If the supply of oxygen is cut for a brief period of time, hypoxia may not show any symptoms. In near-drowning accidents, however, serious symptoms are likely to occur. A patient may lose his memory and have difficulty learning new things as a result of his accident. He might also have poor judgment abilities and motor coordination. If the supply of oxygen is cut off for more than five minutes, neurons inside the brain begin to die, and the hypoxia may result in coma or even death.The only treatment for brain hypoxia is to provide enough oxygen for the patient.

Brain Ischemia

Brain ischemia, or cerebral ischemia, results from an insufficient blood flow to the brain. As with hypoxemia, full recovery after brain ischemia is possible, but only if the brain has suffered from the condition only briefly. Brain-related symptoms of prolonged ischemia include seizures, swelling and impaired cerebral autoregulations. In cerebral autoregulations, blood and oxygen is diverted where it is most needed. Much like hypoxia, severe brain ischemia can result in coma or death.

Central Nervous System Infection

Water- and soil-borne organisms can cause serious infections that especially attacks the central nervous system after ending up in the lungs of a drowning person. The patient may not show any symptoms until one to three weeks after the near-drowning incident, at which point fever, vomiting and seizures are common symptoms. Some of these infections are fatal and difficult to treat. For example, a study in the journal "Mycoses" showed infections with the fungus Pseudallescheria boydi were linked to near-death drowning accidents. Later, 74 percent of their subjects died after the infection spread into their brains.

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