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What You Need to Know About Dry Drowning


As summer approaches, it is important to understand what dry drowning is, how to prevent it, and what the signs are. The term “dry drowning” can be a bit confusing since it can seem impossible to drown on dry land. Dry drowning, or secondary drowning, is a buildup of fluid in the lungs which does not occur during submersion in water. It can occur up to 24 hours after swimming.
Just because your child is out of the water, does not mean he/she is out of the safe zone. Dry drowning can be difficult to identify, but thankfully there are clear warning signs. All you need to do is look out for these red flags:

  • Distressful breathing / Consistent coughing:

Even if they seem fine, any child pulled from the pool because of a near-drowning episode needs medical attention to make sure their lungs are clear, or at least a call to the pediatrician. If your child is old enough, asking them how they are feeling can help you to better evaluate the situation.

  • Extreme/Unusual sleepiness:

It is not unusual for a child to be a little sleepy after a day at the pool or beach, but it is very important to keep a close eye on them.

  • Unusual behavior:

If you notice your child is unusually forgetful or “woozy”, you should make a call to the doctor right away, or seek medical attention, even if it has been hours after swimming. At this point, it is unlikely their symptoms will just disappear.

  • Vomiting:

Vomiting can indicate a lack of oxygen or inflammation. It could also be the result of persistent coughing and gagging as listed above.
If you notice any of these signs, your child’s pediatrician should be able to talk you through it or advise you to bring him/her in for further examination. Treatment includes checking the child’s vital signs, oxygen level and work of breathing (measuring the energy it takes for them to inhale and exhale). In the case your child is not able to breathe on his/her own, which is extremely rare, further support may be needed such as ventilation or intubating. The end goal is to make sure your child is breathing well and to increase blood flow to the lungs.
There are many ways to prevent dry drowning, such as swimming lessons to teach your child how to properly move through the water and hold their breath appropriately. Monitoring your children and making sure they have flotation devices, if necessary, is also a great idea. At young ages, your children need supervision at all times, even if they are excellent swimmers. Anything can happen, and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

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