Using an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on someone submerged in water is both dangerous and ineffective. However, you can use an AED on someone who is partially wet. If you see someone go into sudden cardiac arrest in the swimming pool, in the rain, on an ice rink, or in the snow, knowing what to do and what not to do (including when not to use a defibrillator) could help you save their life.
How an AED Helps with Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when there is an electrical malfunction in the heart and it stops pumping blood around the body. When this happens, you have about 10 minutes to apply high-quality CPR and deliver an electric shock before the person dies, as the chance of survival is reduced by 7-10% for every minute that passes after the initial collapse.
An automated external defibrillator can help a victim of SCA by shutting down the electrical activity of their heart and allowing the heart’s own pacemaker to restart with a normal rhythm. Unlike a manual defibrillator, an AED will only deliver a shock if the person’s heart rhythm is shockable—that is, presenting with ventricular fibrillation or pulseless ventricular tachycardia.
Can You Use an AED on Someone Submerged in Water?
Water and electricity don’t mix, and if someone is submerged in water when they go into cardiac arrest, you’ll need to remove them from the water before using an AED. First, the shock delivered could pass to other people in the water (including the AED operator), shocking them unnecessarily and diverting the charge away from the patient. Second, the AED’s adhesive electrode pads won’t stick to the patient’s chest.
Can You Use an AED in Snow?
Snow is a little bit different from water because a victim is less likely to be submerged in snow but rather lying on top of it. If someone goes into sudden cardiac arrest on a hockey rink, at a ski resort, or in another setting with snow or ice, you can use an AED device as soon as the patient’s chest is dry enough to attach the pads.
What Should You Do if You Need to Use an AED on Someone Submerged in Water?
AEDs are often needed around water because drowning is a common cause of cardiac arrest. In fact, New York AED laws require all swimming pools to have at least one AED on site because of the elevated risk of SCA.
If you see someone who is suffering sudden cardiac arrest in the water at a swimming pool, at the beach, in a flood situation, or just in the rain:
- Check that it’s safe to pull them out of the water (you don’t want to become a victim too), and take them to the nearest dry area.
- Call 9-1-1, send a bystander to go and fetch an AED, and immediately perform hands-only CPR.
- Once the AED arrives, remove any wet clothing as quickly as possible—using scissors if they’re included in the AED kit or by ripping the clothing off the person’s chest. Make sure that you remove all of the wet clothing on the upper body, including bikini tops, bras, and swimsuits.
- Dry the victim’s bare chest thoroughly with a towel or a piece of dry clothing, also drying their upper stomach, armpits, the sides of their ribcage, and their neck.
- Once the victim’s chest is completely dry, attach the AED pads to the patient’s skin in the proper locations. For more information, refer to our guide on the correct AED pad placement, which covers the proper placement for adults, children, and even patients with a pacemaker.
- Deploy the AED while you continue CPR.
What to Do if You Need to Use an AED on Someone on Snow or Ice
Using a portable defibrillator in the snow is simpler than using an AED on someone submerged in water.
Simply dry the victim’s chest (and surrounding areas) thoroughly before applying the AED electrode pads and put the AED on top of a jacket if available to keep it warm. Before pressing the shock button (for semi-automatic models) or before the device delivers a shock automatically (for fully automatic models), shout “stand clear” to make sure that no one is touching the patient’s body. Then deliver the shock.
Recommended AED Machines for Use Near Water and Snow
While any automated external defibrillator is capable of delivering a shock, some devices are built especially to withstand humidity, water, and extremely low temperatures. Out of the devices on the market, the HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P and HeartSine Samaritan PAD 450P are two of the best for damp and cold situations.
- At 2.4 lbs, the Samaritan PAD is small and lightweight, making it easy to rush the device to the victim over a long stretch of sand, snow, or ice.
- The Samaritan PAD has the highest durability ratings of any AED available, with an IP56 Dust & Water Rating and a Military Standard Drop Test certification.
- According to the AED unit’s user manual, the Samaritan PAD can be used at temperatures between 32 and 122 degrees F (0 and 50 degrees Celsius), in relative humidity (non-condensing) between 5% and 95%, and at altitudes up to 15,000 feet (4,575 meters).
Please note that AEDs should never be immersed in water or snow when treating cardiac arrest victims. Water could cause serious damage to the device and create a fire or shock hazard for bystanders and the victim.
Know What to Do and Save a Life
So, you can’t use an AED on someone submerged in water. But once you have moved the victim away from the water and ensured that their chest is completely dry, you can use the portable defibrillator in most circumstances.
AEDs are made to withstand a little bit of water and dust so that rescuers can use them anywhere, so as long as you know what to do, you can use that device to save a life.