5 Near-Drowning Nursing Care Plans


Near-drowning is defined as survival for at least 24 hours from suffocation by submersion. Aspiration of water causes plasma to be pulled into the lungs, resulting in hypoxemia, acidosis, and hypovolemia. Hypoxemia results from the decrease in pulmonary surfactant caused by the absorbed water that leads to damage of the pulmonary capillary membrane. Severe hypoxia can also result from asphyxia related to submersion without aspiration of fluid.

Factors associated with near-drowning include an inability to swim, accidents/injuries, alcohol use, underlying seizure disorder or cardiac dysrhythmia, hyperventilation, and hypothermia. A client who has nearly drowned may be unresponsive. Other symptoms may include cold or pale skin, abdominal swelling, vomiting, cough with pink, frothy sputum, shortness or lack of breath, lethargy, and chest pain.

Freshwater drownings are far more common than saltwater drownings. Fresh water usually results in surfactant loss, and hence, producing areas of atelectasis. Saltwater aspiration, on the other hand, results in pulmonary edema due to the osmotic effects of the salt within the lung.

Nursing Care Plans

Therapeutic goals for a client who has nearly drowned include providing adequate oxygenation, maintaining a patent airway, maintaining cerebral perfusion, continuous monitoring, providing rewarming methods, and absence of complications.

Here are five (5) nursing care plans and nursing diagnosis (NDx) for near-drowning: 

  1. Impaired Gas Exchange
  2. Ineffective Cerebral Tissue Perfusion
  3. Deficient/Excess Fluid Volume
  4. Risk for Infection
  5. Risk for Decreased Cardiac Output

Ineffective Cerebral Tissue Perfusion

Nursing Diagnosis

May be related to

  • Cerebral edema
  • Gas exchange insufficiency
  • Increased intracranial pressure (ICP)
  • Prolonged hypoxemia

Possibly evidenced by

  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in motor response
  • Changes in pupillary response
  • Deficit in cranial nerve response

Desired Outcomes

  • Client will maintain optimal cerebral tissue perfusion, as evidenced by alert, responsive mentation; absence of neurological deficits; normoreactive pupils; normal or baseline motor function.
Nursing InterventionsRationale
Using the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), assess the level of consciousness.The GCS measures changes in the level of consciousness based on the verbal, motor, and pupillary responses. Early signs of cerebral hypoxia are restlessness and anxiety, leading to agitation, confusion, lethargy, and coma.
Monitor for any signs of seizure activity.Any cerebral irritation or trauma places the client at risk of seizure. Seizure increases cerebral metabolism and oxygen demand. Seizure precautions may need to be instituted.
Monitor client’s environment for the degree of stimulation.Environmental stimuli may precipitate increased ICP episodes.
Assess cranial nerve responses especially the vagus nerve.Absence of the cranial nerve X indicates a need for artificial airway maintenance.
Monitor ethanol levels and the toxicology screen results.Recreational alcohol or drug use may be associated with near-drowning accidents; its effects may mask true loss of consciousness.
Institute a seizure precautions such as side rails up and padded, the bed in low position, head protection if needed.Client’s safety is a priority. Keeping the bed in the lowest position reduces the risk of falls during seizure activity. Side rails and protective headgear reduces the risk of injury during tonic-clonic seizures.
Maintain the head of bed elevated; Maintain a midline head and body alignment.This position promotes venous drainage from the brain to reduce ICP.
Decrease the client’s exposure to unnecessary stimuli.Attention to reducing environmental stimuli (noise reduction, curtain closing, avoiding unnecessary nursing activities) reduces the risk of seizures.
Decrease the frequency of suctioning.Hypoxia and the Valsalva maneuver associated with suctioning may elevate ICP and place the client at further risk for seizures.
Administer anticonvulsants as ordered.Drug therapy is the primary approach to preventing and managing seizure activity.
For clients with signs of increased ICP:
  • Maintain oxygenation levels.
Adequate oxygenation prevents further hypoxemic damage.
  • Administer hyperventilation, as ordered in collaboration with the respiratory therapist.
Hyperventilation blows off carbon dioxide to control cerebral blood flow and, in turn, controls the increase in ICP. This reduces the risk for seizures.

Recommended Resources

Recommended nursing diagnosis and nursing care plan books and resources.

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See Also

Other recommended site resources for this nursing care plan:


Other nursing care plans related to respiratory system disorders:

Paul Martin is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing since 2007. Having worked as a medical-surgical nurse for five years, he handled different kinds of patients and learned how to provide individualized care to them. Now, his experiences working in the hospital is carried over to his writings to help aspiring students achieve their goals. He is currently working as a nursing instructor and have a particular interest in nursing management, emergency care, critical care, infection control, and public health. As a writer at Nurseslabs, his goal is to impart his clinical knowledge and skills to students and nurses helping them become the best version of themselves and ultimately make an impact in uplifting the nursing profession.