Intentional breath-holding can lead to drowning: study

New York – A pattern of reckless behaviors has led to more than a dozen drowning incidents in New York state, according to a study from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The department analyzed more than two decades of data on “breath-hold blackouts,” in which victims intentionally held their breath for an extended period of time before losing consciousness underwater. Researchers classified the incidents into three behavior types:

  • Intentional hyperventilation. In one case, two male swimmers were preparing for a military fitness test. They performed “intentional hyperventilation and submersion breath-control exercises” and later were found underwater. They could not be resuscitated.
  • Static apnea. A lifeguard was able to rescue a teen who became unconscious after taking part in breath-holding contests with friends.
  • Hypoxic training. A teen with the goal of becoming a U.S. Navy Seal was participating in repeated, extended breath-holding as part of his training regimen. He was found unconscious underwater and could not be resuscitated.

Researchers said the findings could lead to more effective drowning prevention strategies by focusing on behavioral risk factors rather than final outcomes.

The study was published in the May 22 edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.