What is Dry (or Delayed) Drowning?
Posted in safety tips on September 26, 2016
Most parents are aware of the risk of children drowning during water activities, but many have never heard of dry drowning. Dry drowning, or secondary/delayed drowning, is a frightening possibility for any child who has been in water recently. Dry drowning may sound like an oxymoron, but it happens much the same as typical drowning. When a child breathes too much water into his or her lungs, it can cause secondary drowning later on, after the child has dried off and is engaged in other activities.
The Danger of Fluid in the Lungs
Drowning occurs when the lungs are submersed in water. Dry drowning occurs when fluid collects in the body up to 24 hours after swimming or bathing. Dry drowning can occur in adults, but it’s much more common in children, due to their small size. When a child inhales water, it causes fluids to collect in his or her vocal chords. Fluid in the vocal chords can make them spasm and close, hours after the child has left the water – thus the name “dry drowning.” Dry drowning is just as dangerous as “wet” drowning, and parents need look out for it any time a child swims or bathes, especially when the child inhales water.
Dry Drowning Symptoms
Although only about 1-2% of drowning incidents involve dry drowning, doctors encourage parents to learn the signs and symptoms of this condition to recognize it early. When a child has fluid in his or her lungs, it can cause distressed breathing, bad coughing, vomiting, extreme drowsiness, or unusual behavior. Rapid, shallow breaths or nostril flaring can be a sign of a child who can’t breathe properly. Also, look for gaps above the child’s collarbone or between the ribs to check for difficulty breathing.
Dry drowning can cause sleepiness due to oxygen deprivation in the blood. If your child complains of drowsiness right after swimming, check with a doctor before letting him or her sleep. Oxygen deprivation also causes behavioral changes, such as forgetfulness. Your child may vomit because of a lack of oxygen or experience inflammation, persistent coughing, and/or gagging. In some scenarios, vomiting can lead to choking, which in turn can lead to loss of oxygen and death.
What to Do for Dry Drowning
The moment you suspect your child is dry drowning, call a physician for counsel. Explain what happened and why you believe your child is suffering this condition. Your pediatrician can talk you through what to do, or advise you to take your child to an urgent care center. Call 9-1- 1 if necessary. Emergency response teams will know how to help your child in a timely and efficient manner to prevent further injury or death.
Depending on the severity of your child’s condition, treatment for dry drowning will vary. First, a physician will measure your child’s breathing, oxygen levels, and vital signs to diagnose a dry drowning. In some cases, the doctor may take a chest X-ray, provide oxygen, or use an IV. The goal during treatment is to increase blood flow in the lungs and facilitate easy breathing. Your child’s doctor may recommend he or she remain in the hospital for observation until the risk has subsided.
Preventing dry drowning is similar to preventing other types of drowning. Always supervise your child while swimming and enforce pool safety rules. Consider giving your child swimming lessons to prevent the risk of your child’s head submerging underwater. Give your child floatation devices on boats and while swimming, if necessary, and never leave your child unattended near standing water. As long as you supervise your child while swimming, watch for signs of dry drowning and respond quickly by calling a physician, you don’t have reason to worry excessively about the chance of dry drowning.