A recent widely circulated news story has brought increased attention to a rare, but serious, incident: what is commonly called "dry drowning," which refers to when a child aspirates fluid into their lungs. Dry drowning is not an actual medical term, but since it is so commonly used, we use it here as a means to prevent confusion. There are also incidents referred to as "secondary drowning;" some people use these terms interchangeably, but they are two different occurrences, both of which we will discuss. It's important to note both of these incidents are very rare.
"Dry drowning" can occur when someone inhales water, and it triggers a spasm of the airways, preventing not only water from getting through, but also the necessary amount of oxygen. This would manifest itself in immediate symptoms.
Secondary drowning can occur when someone inhales water, and it actually gets into the lungs, where it can irritate the lungs and build up fluid, resulting in a condition called pulmonary edema. Symptoms may not show for up to 24 hours later.
Symptoms on the spectrum of these two conditions may include:
- Trouble breathing
- Change in coloration of the face
- Chest pain
- Excessive or sudden exhaustion/tiredness (may indicate not enough oxygen is getting to the blood)
For help on what to do if your child has breathing difficulties, please see our related post: Breathing Difficulties.
For prevention of these incidents, practice safety whenever your children are near, or in, water. Always make sure there is an adult nearby supervising; if your child does not know how to swim, do not let them go into water over their head without direct supervision (an adult is in the water with them); if you have a pool, keep it firmly secured when not in use; if you are engaging in water activities on a lake/river, have everyone wear life jackets.
As always, if you have any further questions, please reach out to our practice and we will assist you.