Family & Parenting

What You Should Know About Dry Drowning

Good to know.

Summertime means pool time. One of my deepest, darkest fears as a parent is drowning. As a result, I am a vigilant, active watcher of my children in the pool. This and their puddle-jumpers brought me a certain amount of comfort. That was until I read about dry drowning.

Now, every single time my kids swallow water or come up for air coughing, I have an overwhelming fear of dry drowning. The good news: It is extremely rare. The bad news: It does happen, so it is important to know the facts.

What is Dry Drowning?

Often dry drowning and secondary drowning are used interchangeably, but they are really two different things.

Dr. Mark Zonfrillo, M.D. explained the difference to

“In dry drowning, someone takes in a small amount of water through his or her nose and/or mouth, and it causes a spasm in the airway, causing it to close up. In secondary drowning, the little bit of water gets into the lungs and causes inflammation or swelling that makes it difficult or impossible for the body to transfer oxygen to carbon dioxide and vice versa. Dry drowning usually happens soon after exiting the water, but with secondary drowning, there can be a delay of up to 24 hours before the person shows signs of distress. Both can cause trouble breathing and, in worst-case scenarios, death.”

What Are The Signs?

  • Water Rescue: Any child, no matter their age, who needed to be pulled from the water needs to receive medical attention. At a minimum, call your pediatrician.
  • Sleepiness: While time at the pool makes most kids tired, a decrease in oxygen can also cause extreme sleepiness so be on the look out for extra fatigue.
  • Coughing: Persistent coughing after potentially inhaling water could be a sign of breathing distress.
  • Trouble Breathing: Rapid shallow breathing and nostril flaring means your child is working harder to breathe. This is a sign that you should seek medical help immediately.
  • Vomiting: Lack of oxygen, inflammation or intense coughing can all cause vomiting, which signals the child’s body is in distress.
  • Change in behavior: A dip in oxygen can cause your child to seem sick, wooz, or forgetful.

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