Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

When a person first begins to drown, the body's initial reaction is to close the larynx and seal the trachea, called a laryngospasm. There are various symptoms of water inhalation following laryngospasms, the most severe one being death. Some signs of water inhalation continue several hours after the event.


Severe coughing is a common sign of water inhalation. It will occur immediately after a person inhales water as he tries in take in oxygen but may also continue after the unintentional swallowing of water. If the coughing lasts at least 20 minutes or more, it can be a sign of water entering the lungs. If coughing continues it may be an indication that the airway is still sealed by the larynx. Immediate medical assistance may be necessary.

Chest Pains

A person who has experienced a near drowning in a body of water may still be in danger of a "dry drowning." If the larynx has kept the airways sealed after the incident, small amounts of blood may be getting into the lungs since blood is still being pumped into the lungs despite the lack of oxygen. As a result, a person may drown on her own fluids. Chest pains and difficulty in breathing, after inhaling water, may be an indication of fluid in the lungs. Get treatment at a local hospital immediately.


Another sign of water inhalation is sluggishness or confusion. A person who has experienced water inhalation may have trouble with verbal communication or act confused. This can be a result of hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen to the body. The airways remain sealed, even after water inhalation; and as a result, oxygen is not getting to the brain and the rest of the body. If not alleviated quickly by treatment at an emergency room, it will lead to death.


There are two ways a person may die from water inhalation: "wet drowning" and "dry drowning." The body often reacts with a laryngospasm when water first enters the lungs. Sometimes, when a victim loses consciousness, the larynx relaxes, allowing more water to flood the lungs and resulting in a wet drowning. The larynx may remain sealed, however, until the person dies of a cardiac arrest. This is known as a dry drowning because the lungs weren't flooded before death. A person may also die from a dry drowning hours after water inhalation due to the larynx remaining closed.