The diagnosis of drowning is one of exclusion. There are no good drowning tests to prove a person drowned and an autopsy is inconclusive. The body is usually wet or is found in water to make the diagnosis. There may be injuries from being in the water, such as tears and scrapes of the skin from impacts against boats or bridges. Occasionally, marine life, more often in salt water, may feed on the skin of the face, especially around the mouth, nose, and ears. Abrasions may be found on the forehead, knees, and backs of hands from the body scraping against the bottom of the lake or pool. There may be no external signs of trauma. Froth in the nose and mouth may be present. Wrinkling of the skin on the hands and feet is typical.

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