Authored by Revere Health

Dry Drowning & Secondary Drowning: What to Watch For

August 8, 2017 | Family Medicine

Swimming Pools and Other Recreational Waters: A Haven for Hardy Parasites

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.


How it Happens


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


Warning signs and symptoms of dry drowning or secondary drowning may include:

  • Breathing issues
  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness or changes in energy level
  • Vomiting

In most cases, dry drowning symptoms are visible right away after a water incident. Secondary drowning symptoms may appear hours later.


Proper Response


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.


Drowning Prevention


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:

  • Teach water safety: This includes things like no diving in shallow water and only swimming with a lifeguard present. There are classes available for both children and parents in this area.
  • Help kids learn to swim as early in life as possible.
  • Make sure lifeguards and other staff are present at all pools your children swim in, and never let children swim alone.
  • Many teen drowning issues are related to drugs and alcohol, so teach your adolescent children about the risks of these kinds of behaviors.
  • Discourage rough play in or around all bodies of water.
  • Always watch closely while your child is in or around water, and never leave your baby alone near any amount of water.
  • If you have a home pool, make sure it’s fully fenced.


If you’re worried your child is showing the symptoms of dry drowning or secondary drowning, seek immediate medical attention.


Revere Health Orem Family Medicine is devoted to comprehensive healthcare for patients of all ages, and committed to provide thorough and timely health care for the entire family throughout all stages of life.




“What is ‘Dry Drowning’? WebMD.

“Dry and Secondary Drowning: The Signs Every Parent Needs to Know.” American Osteopathic Association.


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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.