“Dry Drowning” And What to Know

“Dry Drowning” And What to Know

Dr. Rebecca Butler is the owner of Lantana Pediatrics.

Summer is in full swing, the kids are out of school, and the community pools are starting to crowd. This is an important time to go over some pool safety tips, especially for those of you with young children.

Most people recognize a drowning event, and most understand that emergency medical care is absolutely necessary in addition to initial resuscitation. What is a little less well known is “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning” and therefore poses a great risk. Most people do not realize that drowning can happen out of the water.

Dry drowning happens when someone breathes in small amounts of water during a struggle. This triggers the muscles in their airway to spasm. Fluid builds up in the lungs and causes difficulty breathing. A person with a near drowning, struggle, or “close call” can be out of the water and walking around normally before any signs of dry drowning appear. If untreated, it can be fatal.

These events are not common. Only 1-2 % of drowning events occurs this way, but regardless of the rarity you should be aware of this unfamiliar danger.

Pool safety tips: I know many of these are common sense but we all need a reminder to re-evaluate.

  • Swimming pools should not be built until all children in the household are >5 years of age.
  • Parents should NEVER leave children alone in or near the pool.
  • A fence should be erected to separate the house from pool.
  • The fence should be at least 4 feet high around ALL 4 sides of the pool.
  • The fence should be completely separate the pool from the house and the play yard.
  • Gates should auto-close and auto-latch, with latches children cannot reach.
  • Parents should consider a safety cover.
  • Keep rescue equipment and a telephone near the pool at all times.
  • Know CPR!

All of these signs of dry drowning occur up to 24 hours after your child leaves the water. In most cases, there is a struggle in the water of some kind, such as a near-drowning experience or a lot of water in his face. After that occurs, you need to watch your child closely for symptoms to ensure that you seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Symptoms of “Dry Drowning”

Chest Pain:
Seek immediate medical attention if your child starts complaining of chest pain after playing in water. The spasms from dry drowning place stress on the lungs and chest, which leads to pain. Your toddler complaining of a sore throat is also concerning.

Persistent Coughing:
The number one sign of dry drowning is persistent coughing. Laryngospasm, which is the medical term for the vocal cord and larynx spasms, causes your toddler’s throat to close. Coughing occurs as your child attempts to clear his throat. The coughing becomes more persistent as bodily fluids fill the lungs.

As your child’s body works to protect itself by causing larynx spasms, it is common for your child to become lethargic. His energy is exhausted by trying to breathe and clear his throat. If your child seems abnormally fatigued after a trip to the pool, then that is a cause for concern.

Shortness of Breath:
As your child’s throat undergoes spasms and he continues coughing, it becomes more and more difficult for him to breathe. This shortness of breath signifies that his throat is closing up and the condition is becoming more serious. If the condition is not treated, then each breath becomes shorter until death occurs.

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