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Secondary drowning and dry drowning-how do I know??

We have heard the horror stories, but how do we know when our own child is at risk and when do we go to the doctor or ER?

Secondary drowning occurs when child’s airway opens up and allows some water to enter the lungs. This can cause a severe inflammatory reaction we call pulmonary edema that may not occur up to 24 hours after the incident. This can occur in any kind of water from the bathtub to a swimming pool.

Dry drowning is a phenomenon where no water ever enters the lungs but water droplets may hit the larynx or a sudden high speed submersion occurs such as coming off a water slide or high dive. This triggers the larynx to spasm and essentially causes suffocation. This is an immediate response to the mechanism of injury and child will appear to be choking.


Now that I have scared you, don’t panic every time your child gets near water.  These are very rare incidents that occur making up 1-2% of all drowning injuries.


What are the symptoms that I should be aware of?

  1. If a child has persistent coughing or chest pain after playing in the water they are at risk for water in their lungs.
  2. Any child who has been submerged in water and had to be rescued.
  3. Any child was unconscious under water and has limited memory of incident.
  4. Any behavioral changes such as child feels sick, acts too sleepy, change in mental status or behavior after being in pool.
  5. Any child who has been vomiting after water play.

If any of these symptoms are evident, seek medical attention immediately.

Prevention is always the best option.  Consider swim lessons for your child. Never allow around water without being closely supervised. Teach teens that drugs/alcohol around water don’t mix.