Secondary drowning (also know as Dry Drowning) requires immediate medical intervention. Secondary drowning is also called delayed drowning because it can happen anywhere from 1-24 hours after being in water. Be equipped with the facts on dry drowning and secondary drowning symptoms. Save your child from secondary drowning by spotting dry drowning signs quickly.
What You Need to Know About Secondary Drowning
I had no idea about secondary drowning (what is also referred to as dry drowning, but also called delayed drowning or silent drowning) until I was a parent.
It’s another scary situation in a long line of others you must know about to keep your kids safe around water.
So, what’s the difference between secondary drowning and dry drowning?
Secondary Drowning is where a child seems fine after getting out of the pool or a body of water, but then begins to shown signs of trouble breathing, persistently coughing and exhibiting symptoms similar to a cold or the flu, such as extreme fatigue, vomiting and sometimes fever.
While secondary drowning is extremely rare, it can be life threatening and when serious, requires immediate medical attention.
You may think that once you’re out of the water, your child is safe but secondary drowning symptoms can happen anywhere from 1 – 24 hours after you’ve been swimming.
Tragically, this four-year old boy died one week after swimming and the cause was found to be from secondary drowning.
This sounds scary, but if you know the dry drowning signs and how to handle it, it can be monitored and treated before the situation turns critical.
Get the facts you need to help keep your kids safe in and out of water. Read and know the signs of dry drowning and secondary drowning.
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What Dry Drowning Looks Like
When a child breathes a small amount of water into their lungs, something that can happen when there struggling to swim, gets splashed in the face, goes underwater, swallows water, or is dunked, the water that’s breathed in through the mouth or nose gets caught in the child’s airways.
The vocal cords then begin to spasm from inflammation, swell and close up once you’ve already left the pool.
This is dry drowning.
Water in the lungs can cause swelling that forces the airways to close shut, making it difficult, if not impossible for a person to breathe.
Dry drowning usually happens immediately after the child has breathed water into their lungs, and you’ll notice these symptoms of dry drowning quickly.
Why Secondary Drowning is Different Than Dry Drowning
Dry drowning is when breathing becoming difficult because the airways close up, but secondary drowning is slightly little different.
When water is consumed in the lungs, it begins to fill the lungs, until it causes the person trouble breathing. This condition is called pulmonary edema.
Secondary drowning signs are delayed and can appear anywhere from 1 – 24 hours after being in water.
Doctors who treat both types of submersion injuries often see mild cases but in very rare cases, children who are not treated can result in hospitalization and even death.
Always err on the side of caution when it comes to diagnosing post-swimming behavior and dry drowning signs.
Signs of Secondary Drowning & Dry Drowning
The symptoms for Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning are the same, and a professional will properly diagnose your child if they experience any of the following symptoms but here is what dry drowning looks like:
- Persistent Coughing
- Difficulty Breathing
- Painful Breathing; shallow, heavy breathing, trying to catch their breath, flared nostrils
- Chest Pain
- Acting Extremely Tired and Sleepy
- Change in Behavior; irritability, extremely lethargic, forgetful can all indicate a dip in oxygen to the brain
- Change in Responsiveness and Awareness
- Change in Color to Lips & Fingers from lack of oxygen
If a child needs any sort of rescue or water resuscitation, take your child to be seen for evaluation afterwards.
At the very least, call your Pediatrician for treatment advice.
What to do if You Suspect Dry Drowning or Delayed Drowning?
If your child is exhibiting any signs of dry drowning, seek medical advice and attention.
While in most cases, mild symptoms will resolve on their own in time, it’s important to get checked out in case the situation turns serious.
Keep an eye on symptoms and if they don’t go away or get worse, take your child to the nearest emergency room. Don’t wait and visit the Pediatrician’s office where they won’t have the proper equipment to correctly diagnose and delay treatment.
Call your pediatrician for help and if you need to go to the ER, have them call ahead to expedite admittance.
Typically, secondary drowning treatment will require a chest X-Ray, IV and often a child will be admitted for observation.
Professionals will check airways to make sure they’re clear and monitor oxygen saturation levels. More serious cases may involve oxygen and intubation.
If your child is having trouble breathing, always call 911.
Prevention Tips of Secondary Drowning
The best prevention of dry drowning is to always watch your children and make sure you are following these important water safety rules and be on the alert for dry drowning symptoms.
Don’t let your guard down around any water, even if it isn’t deep – the pool, ocean, 2 inches of water in the bathtub, ponds, and pools of water are all equally dangerous.
Delayed drowning in and out of water can happen to anyone.
It’s also important to recognize the 5 Signs of Drowning.
Here are general Water Safety Rules to Follow:
- Enroll your children in swimming lessons
- Don’t allow your kids to go into deep water they are not capable of swimming in
- Never let your child swim alone
- Only swim in areas/pools where there are lifeguards
- Wear approved floating devices such as lifejackets and floaties
- Check the drain covers are properly installed in every pool you swim in
I like to caution that you don’t need to stress too much about dry drowning because it is extremely rare, but watch your children after they’re done playing in water and pay attention to any odd or unusual behavior. Trust your gut and if something seems off, don’t chance it.
Never be afraid to contact your pediatrician or health insurance provider who will talk you through steps you need to take.
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Non-swimmers should Wear USGC (or appropriate agency for your country) flotation devices properly. Last week a girl at my pool had to be pulled out by the lifeguard because she forced under water by in improperly worn lifevest. She wore it down the slide and the impact forced it up and pushed her head under the water.
Yes! USGC approved is the only way to go. Our daughter’s plastic arm floaties slipped off her once when she was little and it was scary since she was several feet away from me. Great point, thanks for sharing.
With summer here and so many kids/families going to the beach/pool, it’s good that parents are aware of dry and secondary drowning symptoms.
Lewis Carroll says
If your child experiences dry drowning, never hesitate to bring them to an emergency room for immediate care. It’s good to assess any damage that may lead to future complications.
Thank you for sharing. This is important for parents to take note of. Will be sharing to increase awareness.
Marissa Khosh | MamaRissa.com says
Thank you for this information. It is scary how many dangers there are in the world that we as parents are often unaware of or don’t know how to deal with. But I appreciate posts like this that inform others about serious situations and how to respond to them.