I had no idea about dry drowning (what is also referred to as secondary drowning and technically called submersion injuries) 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.
Dry Drowning is where a child seems fine after getting out of the pool or a body of water, but then begins to shown dry drowning signs including having trouble breathing, persistently coughing and exhibiting symptoms similar to a cold or the flu such as extreme fatigue, vomiting and sometimes fever.
Dry drowning is extremely rare but can be life threatening and when serious, requires medical attention.
You may think that once you’re out of the water, your child is safe but secondary drowning symptoms typically show themselves within 1 – 24 hours after you’ve been swimming and in most recent news, tragically a four-year old boy died one week after swimming from dry drowning.
This sounds scary, but if you know the secondary 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.
What is Dry Drowning
When a child breathes a small amount of water into their lungs, something that can happen when there struggling to swim, goes underwater, swallows water, is dunked or is splashed in the face, the water thats 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 after you’ve already left the pool.
Water in the lungs can cause swelling that forces the airways to close shut, making it difficult, if not impossible to breathe.
Dry drowning usually happens immediately after the child has breathed water into their lungs.
What is Secondary Drowning
Dry drowning is when breathing is difficult due to the airways closing up, but secondary drowning is a little different. When water is consumed in the lungs, it builds up filling the lungs, until it causes trouble breathing just like dry drowning. This condition is called pulmonary edema.
Secondary drowning has delayed symptoms which typically appear within 1 – 24 hours.
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 symptoms.
Dry Drowning Signs to Watch For
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:
- 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 Do You Do If You Suspect Dry/Secondary 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, doctor’s 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 incubation.
If your child is having trouble breathing, call 911.
The best prevention of dry drowning and secondary drowning is to always watch your children and make sure you are following water safety rules. Don’t let your guard down around any water, even if it isn’t deep – the pool, ocean, bathtub, ponds, and pools of water are all equally dangerous.
Drowning in and out of water can happen to anyone. Know the 5 Signs of Drowning and never take your eyes off your children.
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
Don’t 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. 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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