Drowning Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on November 01, 2021

Call 911 If:

  • Someone is drowning.
  • A child is having problems breathing or has stopped breathing as a result of being immersed or submerged in liquid. (Remember, children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.)
  • A child has had a near-drowning episode

1. Get Help

  • Notify a lifeguard, if one is close. If not, ask someone to call 911.
  • If you are alone, follow the steps below.

2. Move the Person

  • Take the person out of the water.

3. Check for Breathing

  • Place your ear next to the person's mouth and nose. Do you feel air on your cheek?
  • Look to see if the person's chest is moving.

4. If the Person is Not Breathing, Check Pulse

  • Check the person's pulse for 10 seconds.

5. If There Is No Pulse, Start CPR

For an adult:

  • Carefully place the person on their back.
  • Place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest at the nipple line. You can also push with one hand on top of the other.
  • Press down at least 2 inches. Make sure not to press on ribs.
  • Do chest compressions only, at the rate of 100-120 per minute or more. Let the chest rise completely between pushes.
  • Check to see if the person has started breathing.

For a child, CPR starts with rescue breathing:

  • Carefully place the child on their back.
  • Tilt head back and lift the chin. For a baby, be careful not to tilt the head back too far.
  • With an older child, pinch the nose closed and put your mouth over the child's mouth, forming a tight seal. With an infant, place your mouth over both the baby's nose and mouth.
  • Blow into the child's mouth for 1 second. You should see their chest rise.
  • Repeat the breath a second time.

Then begin chest compressions:

  • For a child, place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest at the nipple line. For an infant, place two fingers on the breastbone.
  • Press down at least 2 inches for a child, about 1 and 1/2 inches for an infant. Make sure not to press on the ribs or the end of the breastbone.
  • Do 30 chest compressions, at the rate of 100 per minute. Let the chest rise completely between pushes.
  • Check to see if the child has started breathing.

If you’re alone, take a break to call 911 after 2 minutes of CPR.

6. Repeat if Person Is Still Not Breathing

  • If you've been trained in CPR, you can now add two rescue breaths to the adult CPR cycle. Open the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin.
  • Pinch the nose of the victim closed. Take a normal breath, cover the victim's mouth with yours to create an airtight seal, and then give 2 one-second breaths as you watch for the chest to rise.
  • Give two breaths followed by 30 chest compressions.
  • Continue the cycle of 30 compressions and two breaths until the person starts breathing or emergency help arrives.

Note that these instructions are not meant to replace CPR training. Classes are available through the American Red Cross, local hospitals, and other organizations.

Show Sources


Subbarao, I. AMA Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care, Random House Reference, 2009.

Thygerson, A. American College of Emergency Physicians First Aid and CPR Essentials, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2007.

Merck Manual: "Drowning."

American Heart Association: "Hands-Only CPR simplifies saving lives for bystanders."

American Lung Association: "2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Drowning."

Drowning Information from eMedicineHealth.

American Red Cross: Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED "Drowning Prevention."

Weiss J. Prevention of Drowning. Pediatrics. July 1, 2010.

United States Lifesaving Association: "CPR Changes Not for Drowning."



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