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Drowning - Freshwater vs. Saltwater

Drowning: Saltwater Time it takes: Five to 30 minutes

Drowning: Freshwater

Time it takes: Five to 20 minutes

Did you know that more people die in freshwater (especially in swimming pools,) then in saltwater? It's not because lifeguards aren't doing their job. It has more to do with our body. There's a big difference between drowning in freshwater and in saltwater because our body doesn't respond the same to every liquid that fills our lungs. However, without help, the end result is always the same - drowning.


In freshwater, the water filling a person's lungs can enter the bloodstream quickly causing blood cells to swell and burst. Also, the fluid filling the person's lungs will prevent the body from taking in enough air. This leads to cardiac arrest (when the heart stops cuz it doesn't have enough oxygen.)

The only good thing to say about drowning in freshwater is that the drowned person is more than likely unconscious by the time the heart stops.


In a saltwater drowning, the lungs fill with salt water which draws blood out of the bloodstream and into the lungs. This liquid build up in the air sacs stops oxygen from reaching the blood. We all know we can't live without oxygen - so we die. In other words, in saltwater you basically drown in your own fluids. It's not just lack of oxygen that causes drowning but it is the biggest factor.

  • Did you know that young kids are more likely to drown in freshwater than in saltwater, while older children and adults drown more often in saltwater than in freshwater?
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