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August 8, 2017 | Family Medicine
Some parents might assume that the danger of drowning is no longer present once children leave the pool, lake, ocean or bath, but this isn’t truly the case. Drowning is defined as trouble breathing after you get water in your airways—this often happens while swimming or bathing, but it can occur in other ways as well.
One such way is through dry drowning, a rare complication (more common in children) where breathing in water causes the vocal cords to spasm and close. It’s closely related to secondary drowning, which happens when water gets into the lungs and irritates their lining, causing a fluid buildup and a condition called pulmonary edema. Here’s what you need to know about dry and secondary drowning.
Both dry and secondary drowning occur via inhalation of water through the nose or mouth. In cases of dry drowning, the water never reaches the lungs—it triggers a spasm in the airway, and this results in the airway closing up and negatively impacting breathing.
In cases of secondary drowning, the water actually does reach the lungs. It irritates them and builds up fluid over time, and can get worse over the next 24 hours.
Warning signs and symptoms of dry drowning or secondary drowning may include:
In most cases, dry drowning symptoms are visible right away after a water incident. Secondary drowning symptoms may appear hours later.
Watch out for signs of dry or secondary drowning soon after children finish with water activities, and seek immediate medical care if they exhibit any signs of dry or secondary drowning. Many of the symptoms go away on their own, but it’s important to have them checked anyway.
In addition, keep a close eye on your child for the first 24 hours after the issue. If symptoms get worse or don’t go away, take your child to the emergency room—not your pediatrician’s office.
In order to prevent dry or secondary drowning, it’s important to educate children on safe habits near water and how to make smart choices about their water activities. Items to emphasize here include:
If you’re worried your child is showing the symptoms of dry drowning or secondary drowning, seek immediate medical attention.
“What is ‘Dry Drowning’? WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/children/features/secondary-drowning-dry-drowning#2
“Dry and Secondary Drowning: The Signs Every Parent Needs to Know.” American Osteopathic Association. http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/childrens-health/Pages/secondary-drowning.aspx
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.