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View Full Version : Water in the lungs (Few Questions)



Mystic Blossom
03-02-2010, 05:14 AM
Got a character who's found dead in a river. How long does it take for the lungs to completely fill with fluid? I'm talking saturated as much as it can. I also would like to know, how much water can the lungs hold? (We're talking a teenage girl) Finally, will water only fill the lungs while she's still alive, or can it continue to collect after death?

Thank you all!

RobinGBrown
03-02-2010, 01:08 PM
I think the simple answer is 'it depends'. As far as I am aware water does not usually get into the lungs post mortem unless there is a good reason for it to happen.

Scoody
03-02-2010, 01:21 PM
Water will fill the lungs but not completely when alive as there would be some air left inside the lungs. How much water is in the lungs would depend on whether the girl died somewhere else and was tossed into the river dead or drowned. Also even if the girl was already dead, some water would find it's way into her lungs eventually. How much would depend on the position of the body and how much air the water was able to displace. Forensics would be able to tell if the water entered the lungs post mortem or not.

Kathie Freeman
03-02-2010, 08:45 PM
When you drown very little water actually gets into the lungs. The first teaspoonful or so causes the trachea to constrict and you die from suffocation. This also happens in the case of insecticide poisoning. You just can't breathe in bcause the body is defending against the invasive agent. Happened to me once with a room fogger, scared the crap out of me. It was over an hour before I could beathe normally.

Mystic Blossom
03-03-2010, 12:37 AM
When you drown very little water actually gets into the lungs. The first teaspoonful or so causes the trachea to constrict and you die from suffocation. This also happens in the case of insecticide poisoning. You just can't breathe in bcause the body is defending against the invasive agent. Happened to me once with a room fogger, scared the crap out of me. It was over an hour before I could beathe normally.

So, if they found a lot of water in the lungs, that would be considered unusual?

Chris P
03-03-2010, 12:42 AM
When you drown very little water actually gets into the lungs. The first teaspoonful or so causes the trachea to constrict and you die from suffocation.

This is true for freshwater drownings. Water does enter the lungs in salt water drownings because (I'm assuming) the salinity doesn't trigger the tracheal constrictions.

In either type, decomposition in the gut will produce gases that will cause the body to float in about 48 to 72 hours.

WalpurgisQuill
03-03-2010, 12:43 AM
You guys are scary. o.o; Rock on.

jclarkdawe
03-03-2010, 02:11 AM
There are wet and dry drownings. Go to wikipedia for an explanation of why. Either scenario doesn't produce much fluid in the lungs. There's a good explanation of drowning and the autopsy in THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS, as the scam the British were doing involved faking a death from pneumonia for drowning. I'd also contact a coroner.

Initially a body has a slight negative bouyancy. This means it will sink until it reaches neutral bouyancy or the bottom, whichever comes first. The amount it sinks is related to the salt content of the water and the water temperature. Right at the moment, in New Hampshire I would guess somewhere around thirty to fifty feet. If the body of water is eighty feet deep, the body will not reach bottom.

Then as digestion continues in the gut, after about 48 hours the body will obtain a slight positive bouyancy. In other words, it will float on the surface, but just barely. Seeing it will be difficult. Some bodies do not ever reach positive bouyancy.

During the 48 hours, the body will slowly rise as its bouyancy changes. Think of a submarine here.

After about 96 hours, the body will return to negative bouyancy and slowly sink, eventually reaching the bottom.

Obviously, any snags in the water will change this. Currents will move the body around, and many bodies lost in rivers are never seen again. The Thames is a great culprit for this.

The only way you are going to know that there is water in the lungs is by an autopsy. When the body is recovered, water doesn't flow out of the mouth, other than a little bit.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Kathie Freeman
03-05-2010, 08:16 PM
Initially a body has a slight negative bouyancy.


That depends on what clothing, if any, the victim is wearing. Most people wearing only a bathing suit will float if they stretch out and relax, the so-called "dead man's float" that every new swimmer learns or should learn. It also depends on the salinity of the water. Highly salty water such as is found in the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake makes it nearly impossible to sink.

jclarkdawe
03-06-2010, 06:45 PM
That depends on what clothing, if any, the victim is wearing. Absolutely. Usually it is a negative affect, but occasionally it is positive. Most people wearing only a bathing suit will float if they stretch out and relax, the so-called "dead man's float" that every new swimmer learns or should learn. Dead man's float works because you inflate your lungs and hold your breath. You're increasing your positive buoyancy by doing that. According to a government study, 7% of adult males will float, 93% will sink immediately (within a few hours) after death. I'm assuming, but I know of no study to indicate, that women will float slightly better than men. It also depends on the salinity of the water. Oceans bring the 7% figure up to something like 30%. Highly salty water such as is found in the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake makes it nearly impossible to sink. Of course. But these two exceptions have less than 1% of the world's water.

One of the reasons drowning is so deadly is the fact the person sinks. The result is it's a bitch to find them, even when you know where they went down. This is regardless of whether the person went into the water to swim or came off a snowmobile.

Personally, I always found water rescues the most frustrating calls we'd get. Lots of time and very little luck. Most were realistically recovery calls by the time we got there.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe