Drowning

The Heimlich maneuver won't save you

Think before attempting the Heimlich maneuver on a drowning victim, via Shutterstock     Photo: AntonSokolov

The Heimlich has been used for decades to clear the airways of choking victims. For that purpose, it has proved to be a lifesaver. However, the medical community is now advising against its use in drowning cases—despite the claims of Henry Heimlich, it has never been established that the technique can remove water from the lungs. Instead, it may cause a victim to regurgitate and then inhale his or her vomit.

The best thing to do if someone has drowned:

  1. Remove the victim from the water, ensuring that you and others remain safe.
  2. Check for breathing by feeling around the mouth and nose and watching for a rising chest.
  3. Open the mouth and sweep it clean with two fingers, then align the victim on his back on the ground, his head flat or tilted slightly downhill of his body.
  4. If the victim shows no signs of breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth.
  5. Check for a pulse and begin chest compressions if there is still no sign of life.
  6. If hypothermia or a broken neck is a concern, cover the victim with blankets or protect neck movement, then transport the victim to the nearest hospital.

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