Child Emergency: Drowning - First Aid

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Child Emergency: Drowning - First Aid
Child Emergency: Drowning - First Aid
Video: Child Emergency: Drowning - First Aid
Video: What to do if your Baby is Drowning - First Aid Training - St John Ambulance 2023, February

Emergency in children: drowning

On summer days, children like to romp in public baths, swimming pools, ponds or paddling pools. But the best bathing day can end in disaster: drowning is the most common cause of accidental death in the age group between zero and five years.

A child can be rescued much more easily than an adult. The reason for this is the lack of strength - in comparison to an adult - with which he or she lashes out or clings to the rescuer and puts him in danger.


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  • Why are children particularly at risk?
  • How do I recognize a child drowning accident?
  • How can I provide first aid?
  • How do I reanimate a child?
  • How can I prevent drowning emergencies?

In Austria, an average of three to five children drown each year. If you add the number of almost drowned people, which is many times higher, then the probability of experiencing a drowning emergency is not that low. Since the time window to rescue a drowned person is very small, immediate first aid can save lives. However, the most important - especially with children - are preventive measures!

Why are children particularly at risk?

  • The element of water has a great attraction for all children. Reflections on the water surface, floating leaves or other objects arouse their interest.
  • Children and toddlers have a lack of risk literacy. You are not aware of the dangers. Even older children cannot see how deep a body of water is and whether they could stand there.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes parents, teachers or other supervisors are not careful enough or fail to recognize dangers. Often your own swimming pool is well secured, but the pond or rainwater barrel on the neighboring property is completely open.
  • The lack of barriers to water areas in private and public areas is often a problem. If you leave the familiar surroundings, the situation is usually even more dangerous.
  • In addition, the range of motion of children is often underestimated; Even as a toddler, their urge to move is great, children want to get around and explore new areas.

According to statistics, the places and situations that can be dangerous for children differ depending on their age. Most drowning accidents happen

  • with children aged zero to four years at home in their own garden (pool, paddling pool etc.; the children fall in unnoticed or go into the water unnoticed)
  • for five to nine year olds especially in public swimming pools (causes are, for example, unsafe swimming skills, wave pool, sudden panic, etc.),
  • in ten- to 14-year-olds especially in lakes, rivers or through breaking into ice (typical causes in this age group are above all overconfidence, “peer pressure”, alcohol).

How do I recognize a child drowning accident?

“Children drown silently” - that is what makes the situation so dangerous. In contrast to adults, children are usually not able to draw attention to themselves when they are in trouble in the water.

  • Very young children do not automatically start kicking or paddling when they fall into the water. Typically they “freeze” on contact with the water and sink immediately.
  • Getting up in the water can also be a problem for toddlers. They quickly lose their orientation, and the buoyancy makes it difficult or impossible to pull their legs under their bodies and stand up. Therefore, even shallow water can be a great danger!
  • In general, children who are not yet able to swim are unable to keep their mouth and nose above the surface of the water in their fight against drowning. So you cannot call for help.
  • In preschool children, when the face comes into contact with cold water, the so-called immersion reflex occurs. This creates a glottic cramp and, as a result, an insufficient supply of oxygen. This process was formerly known as "dry" drowning (as opposed to "wet" drowning, where water gets into the lungs).
  • Sometimes the situation seems playful. Especially with older children, the situation can appear to the observer as if the child was diving.

How can I provide first aid?

In general, a child can be saved much more easily than an adult. As a rule, his / her strength is less, so there is less danger for the rescuer of being pressed under water by the child clutching or kicking in panic.

Nevertheless, your own safety must always be considered first, especially in very restless waters with high waves, great distance between the drowning person and the shore, etc.

Proceed as follows:

  • Keep calm.
  • Immediately dial the emergency number 144 and make other people aware of the situation.
  • If you dare to bring the child ashore yourself: Make sure you use available aids such as life jackets, life preserver, air mattress or other floating objects.
  • Assess your condition correctly. Do not use up all your strength on the way to the drowning child.
  • As you pull the child ashore, try to keep their head above the water if possible.

After the child was brought ashore

For first aid it is completely irrelevant whether the child is rescued from fresh or sea water. Likewise, it doesn't matter whether the child had a glottic cramp or not. Trying to remove water from the lungs is pointless in any case and will delay resuscitation measures.

Immediately check awareness and breathing:

  • Control consciousness: Speak to the child out loud, eg “Wake up!” And touch the child lightly (eg on the inside of the upper arm).
  • Check breathing: Carefully overstretch the child's head, then hear, see, feel for a maximum of ten seconds. In babies, the head is not overstretched, but only brought into the "sniffing position" (only stretch the head back a little, the nose should point slightly upwards):

    • If breathing is normal: Lay the child in the stable side position. Check the child's breathing regularly until the emergency services are on site. Don't leave it alone. Cover it up to avoid hypothermia (but protect it from direct sun!).
    • If breathing is not normal: Start resuscitation immediately.

How do I reanimate a child?

  • Ventilation: Give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to children over the age of one, and mouth-to-nose resuscitation to babies and infants. Ventilate the child 5 times.
  • Chest compressions: Press 30x with a frequency of 100 to 120x per minute. In all children, the pressure point is in the lower half of the sternum. Press with one or both hands for children over one year old, and one or two fingers for babies and toddlers.
  • Then ventilate twice and then perform chest compressions again 30 times. Continue doing this until professional help arrives or until the child shows signs of life (moving, starting to cry, eyes opening).

More on the topic: 1x1 first aid for children

Note Even if the child was rescued from the water and is conscious, it must still be taken to the hospital! An examination and, if necessary, monitoring is important in order to detect consequential damage (e.g. lung damage). These can lead to lung failure hours later.

How can I prevent drowning emergencies?

The best "first aid" is to take preventive measures such as:

  • Children must be permanently supervised around water. This applies to the swimming lake as well as to the pond, the baby paddling pool in your own garden and all other shallow bodies of water. Just 20 seconds are enough for a child to sink and disappear from the surface of the water.
  • Also avoid possible sources of interference or distractions such as cell phones, going to the toilet, talking to other people.
  • Secure open water areas (pool, paddling pool) in your own area.
  • Children should learn to swim as early as possible! Swimming is the best protection against drowning!
  • Non-swimmers should always use swimming aids, such as armbands. These must correspond to the age and height of the child!
  • Inflatable toys such as hoops, balls, dolphins etc. are not swimming aids and do not offer any protection against drowning.
  • Train and practice first aid measures on a regular basis, e.g. in a first aid course at the Red Cross.
  • If you lose sight of your child in the bathroom, at the lake, etc., first search the water surface.

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