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Could A Person Drown From Steam In A Shower?


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“Could a person drown from steam in a shower?” is an interesting question.

 

By the conventional medical definition of “drown”, the answer’s a clear NO. “Drowning” mean “respiratory impairment from being in or under a liquid”. The steamy air in a shower – a mixture of gasses, water vapor and droplets – isn’t a liquid, so can’t be the cause of drowning.

 

If we broaden the definition of drowning to something like “respiratory impairment due to water in the lungs”, we can sketch some scenarios where a person might have respiratory distress, or even death, due to showering.

 

I’ve noticed that I sometime cough when breathing deeply in steamy shower, which I guess is due to the water vapor and droplets tickling my trachea, triggering the cough reflex. The coughing prevents water from condensing and running down my airways into my lungs. It’s not normally harmful to get clean water in your lungs this way, because the lungs can absorb not only oxygen, but liquid water, so even without the coughing, even if I deep-breathing steam showered for hours, my lungs wouldn’t fill with water, drowning me.

 

A person with an illness or disease that impaired the lungs’ ability to absorb water might not do so well.

 

A person also might get much more water in their lungs in a shower by directly inhaling the water streaming from the shower head. This wouldn’t be pleasant or easy – in my experience from doing this accidentally, the cough reflex is so powerful it would be difficult to intentionally continue – but people can force themselves to override their reflexes to so some intensely weird things, so I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.

 

I read on a forum about a woman who died taking a long hot shower with the door closed because the steam condensed in her lungs, filling them with water.

The main reason most internet discussion of this have concluded it’s an urban myth is that the amount of liquid water in the volume of steam that a person can inhale in the typical duration of a shower is too low to fill the lungs.

 

At normal atmospheric pressure, steam has a maximum (saturated) density of about 0.590 kg/m3. An average person breaths at an average rate of about 0.00015 m3/s. Most lungs have a total volume of 0.004 to 0.006 m3. So a person inhaling fully saturated steam, who’s lungs are unable to absorb any water, would fully fill their lungs in about 15 hours. A steamy shower is less than fully steam saturated, so this time would be longer.

 

A person who’s lungs can’t absorb water is likely to have a pulmonary edema, so their lungs would be filling with fluid whether they breath steam or not. Even when this happens, people reflexively cough, expelling the fluid.

 

So the only scenario I think could lead to respiratory arrest due to breathing steam would require that they have pulmonary edema – perhaps by hyper-hydrating them with an IV line – and their cough reflex being suppressed – perhaps by anesthetizing them, or inducing a coma with drugs.

 

A good thing to do with stories like this is to try to track down the source of the story. In some cases, it’s from speculation like I’ve made, which someone misreport as an actual medical case. Do you have a link to the place you heard this story, Lisa :QuestionM

 

Sources: http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/saturated-steam-properties-d_457.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respiratory_rate#Normal_range, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_volume, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulmonary_edema

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  • 2 years later...

So not a myth! I found out the hard way today and had one of the scareiest freak moments of my life. May joints & muscles were sore from work and I decided to take a long hot shower (about and hour) as I was concluding and about to get out I suddenly couldn't breathe, I starting coughing uncontrollably, I felt as if someone's hands were squeezing my neck & my chest starting burning. I was trying to take deep breaths in but couldn't I was suffocating I couldn't cry for help my husband was sleep my phone was actually on the shower rack I was too weak & couldn't see from all the steam the bathroom was actually covered in steam to where nothing could be seen, like smoke from a fire. I stumbled out of the tub & reached the doorknob of the bathroom door and opened it to let the steam out. As the steam left the bathroom the coughing got better. Ironically, my husband woke up & was entering the bathroom as I was slumped over trying to catch my breath. He didn't know what was going on. It was about a full 5 mins after I opened the door before the coughing stopped or I felt like I could actually breathe. My throat & chest still hurts from this experience and it happened about 10hrs prior to this post. I nearly called 911 after the experience cause I was so shaken up, still am. Ironically, I have a Master's degree in healthcare, and I'm a caretaker. I Googled this experience & found your post/blog had to respond.

 

note on post: it clearly wasn't drowning but definitely some form of suffocation from the steam.

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  • 3 years later...
On 5/27/2017 at 1:03 AM, anomalyme said:

So not a myth! I found out the hard way today and had one of the scareiest freak moments of my life. May joints & muscles were sore from work and I decided to take a long hot shower (about and hour) as I was concluding and about to get out I suddenly couldn't breathe, I starting coughing uncontrollably, I felt as if someone's hands were squeezing my neck & my chest starting burning. I was trying to take deep breaths in but couldn't I was suffocating I couldn't cry for help my husband was sleep my phone was actually on the shower rack I was too weak & couldn't see from all the steam the bathroom was actually covered in steam to where nothing could be seen, like smoke from a fire. I stumbled out of the tub & reached the doorknob of the bathroom door and opened it to let the steam out. As the steam left the bathroom the coughing got better. Ironically, my husband woke up & was entering the bathroom as I was slumped over trying to catch my breath. He didn't know what was going on. It was about a full 5 mins after I opened the door before the coughing stopped or I felt like I could actually breathe. My throat & chest still hurts from this experience and it happened about 10hrs prior to this post. I nearly called 911 after the experience cause I was so shaken up, still am. Ironically, I have a Master's degree in healthcare, and I'm a caretaker. I Googled this experience & found your post/blog had to respond.

 

note on post: it clearly wasn't drowning but definitely some form of suffocation from the steam.

I too experienced this today. I almost fell in shower and had to sit on my toiled seat since I couldn't breathe due to the steam in my bathroom. It stated out as coughing but it progressed to the point that I felt extremely weak and unable to breathe.

Edited by inqisitor
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