Let’s take a look at the true case. While cross-country skiing, a doctor falls through an ice hole. She was discovered many yards away from her body. It has been under the ice for over an hour now. She is revived. After spending several months in the ICU, she returns to work as a physician for many months before returning to physical therapy after a year.


A snowmobile accident leaves a man submerged in ice water for an hour. He survives with no apparent brain damage.

It happens rarely, but it does happen. The brain can’t survive more than six minutes without receiving new oxygen without being harmed in normal situations. How can some people endure an hour of complete submersion—apparently drowned in cold water?

The mammal dive response is one component of the solution. The quick cooling may activate this reflex.

What Causes a Rapid Drop in Body Temperature?

Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than cold air. To elicit the dive reflex, you must rapidly cool your body. Although some of the factors that put you at risk of hypothermia would negate this benefit in most cases, they are still worth noting for their effects on rapid cooling.

Being a kid, for example. The skin-surface to body-mass ratio for infants and toddlers is greater. Their core body temperature cools more rapidly. However, due to other factors in play, the chances of older people are not nearly as good.

Getting a significant quantity of chilly water in the lungs is another potential trigger. The lungs have a large surface area. Most individuals who drown do not have much water in their lungs as a result of a spasm in the top airway. Those who do may be helped in this upside-down world of cold-water drowning.

What Is the Dive Reflex?

When our body temperature drops swiftly, our blood vessels in the surface of our skin constrict and redirect more oxygen-delivering blood to our internal organs and brain. The cooling also lowers heart rate and metabolism, lowering the amount of oxygen needed by the body.

The Metabolic Icebox

The dive reflex is only one component of the brain’s cooling mechanism, which has been scientifically verified to protect neurons from further harm. The protection includes dopamine release and calcium transfer, as well as a number of other complex processes, but to put it another way, neurosurgeons intentionally induce this effect with chilly temperature treatments in certain brain and spine cord operations.

How Does All This Make a Difference in Resuscitation?

  1. You should still call the ambulance ASAP.
  2. The best opportunity for recovery, as much or more than ever, is to seek expert assistance quickly.
  3. It might be difficult to detect a pulse due to blood vessel constriction.
  4. Check for a pulse for at least 60 seconds. Look for signs of life such as breathing or slight movement. The skin might be chilly and pale. Their eyes may be fixated and dilated. In other words, they may appear to be dead, but the heart could be beating fast. Starting CPR on a hypothermic individual whose heart is still beating could create a deadly rhythm.
  5. If you start CPR, continue it for sixty minutes.
  6. Start CPR after checking for the sixty seconds (the old-fashioned variety, meaning with breathing, not just chest compressions). Always think about your own safety and tiredness levels, especially if you’re alone.

The harsh reality (sorry again) is that no matter what, your chances of surviving are slim. The chance that you won’t have quick access to oxygen, defibrillators, and adequate warming in a timely manner is very small.

Consider taking a first-aid or CPR course. A local hospital, Red Cross chapter, or Heart Association chapter can help you locate one. Consider becoming a sponsor of an on-site group class at your workplace.

Photo by julie aagaard/Pexels

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