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“Cold shock” leading cause of drowning, says Ghent professor

06:07 11/03/2014

Not hypothermia, but cold shock is the leading cause of drowning, according to a study released by professor Jan Bourgois of Ghent University’s department of movement and sports sciences. Bourgois found that the body reacts to sudden immersion in cold water with a shock effect on blood circulation, lungs and intestines.

The abrupt acceleration of breathing can then cause a panic reaction and an intake of water. The colder the water, the more intense the reaction. The first three minutes are crucial, after which the superficial muscles and nerves start cooling down.

The research can be used by swimmer and other water sports enthusiasts, lifeguards, marine scientists, fishermen and workers in the offshore sector. Bourgois recommends not only the wearing of protective clothing but also that industry and organisations stage simulation exercises. This would decrease both the physiological and the psychological reaction, he says.


Written by Andy Furniere