As parents, it’s our primary objective to keep our kids safe, and when kids are near water, it can be inherently dangerous.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for people in all age groups. For children between the ages of 1 and 14, it’s the second-leading cause of injury death.
Along with drowning, there’s another concept parents should be aware of—dry drowning. Recently in Florida, a toddler went swimming, inhaled too much pool water and started showing symptoms similar to drowning such as coughing and breathing problems. Luckily that child was treated and recovered, but the situation left parents with many questions about the potential for dry drowning to occur in their own children.
Is There Really Something Called Dry Drowning?
First, while dry drowning is a way to refer to what happened to the Florida child, in medical terms, there is no such thing as dry drowning. Instead, the medical industry refers to this situation as post-immersion syndrome.
Years ago, it was referred to medically as dry drowning, but as medical professionals learned more they renamed it.
So-called dry drowning or post-immersion syndrome occurs when a child (or anyone) swallows too much liquid. The voice box then spasms and closes, which reduces breathing along with other vital functions.
Along with post-immersion syndrome, you might also hear this referred to as delayed drowning.
While post-immersion syndrome can happen, it’s important to realize that it’s very unlikely. The overwhelming majority of children who slip under the water accidentally are fine afterward, and post-immersion syndrome is rare.
There are is another condition called secondary drowning, and this is actually what most parents are thinking of when they say dry drowning. Dry drowning is actually something that occurs within an hour after inhaling water, but secondary drowning can happen up to 48 hours after an accident involving water.
With secondary drowning, water accumulates in the lungs, and it can cause breathing difficulties.
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Drowning?
When someone swallows water the vocal cords close over the windpipe, and this is known as a laryngospasm. This can be mild to severe, and in severe cases, a laryngospasm can prevent oxygen from entering or leaving the lungs.
Symptoms that something could be wrong after an incident in the water include irritability, unusual behavior, problems breathing or speaking, and chest pain. Low energy or sleepiness can also be a warning flag.
If your child experiences a water incident, watch to ensure they don’t seem to sputter or cough a bit before they start breathing normally again. If you notice this, seek medical help.
What Is the Treatment?
If you see any unusual symptoms following an incident related to water, you should get emergency medical help right away. You’ll want to keep your child calm while you wait for help because this can help the muscles of the windpipe relax more quickly.
Treatment may include oxygen and then observation in the hospital to make sure breathing returns to normal.
Complications of dry drowning can include secondary drowning later on, or the development of bacterial pneumonia. A medical professional may order a chest X-ray as well to make sure there’s no water in the lungs.
What About Near-Drowning?
Near-drowning is another situation that occurs when someone is underwater for a period of time and they aren’t able to breathe. With near-drowning, your body doesn’t receive oxygen and that can cause bodily systems to start shutting down.
In young children, this may occur in just a few seconds.
In a near-drowning situation, the use of CPR is essential.
The complications and ongoing effects of near-drowning can vary quite a bit, depending on how long a person is without oxygen.
For example, some of the effects of near-drowning may include pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome or brain damage. It can also lead to imbalances of chemicals and fluids in the body or even a permanent vegetative state.
Parents need to understand the risks of water in all their many forms. Even very small amounts of water can turn into an emergency situation when kids are involved. Children should always be carefully supervised around water, and never left unattended when they can access any type of water.
Parents should never get comfortable with the idea of their children around water, and the majority of water-related accidents happen in familiar surroundings, such as an at-home pool or a family member’s pool.