Water safety is an especially important topic during spring and summer months when everyone enjoys swimming. Drowning is usually a parent’s primary concern when their children are around water, however dry drowning can occur up to 24 hours after your child has been swimming. It’s a scary thought and unfortunately one that catches many parents by surprise.
Dry drowning occurs when water is inhaled into the lungs and causes the vocal chords to spasm. This doesn’t happen during a swim session, but rather hours after a child has been in the pool, ocean, lake or bathtub. Dry drowning has nothing to do with heat, asthma or other outdoor conditions. It is referred to as “dry” because it happens outside of the water. Secondary drowning is similar but the child breathes in fluid and the vocal chords close air passages before water can reach the lungs.
Many parents are less vigilant of their children after a swim session because the immediate concern of drowning in a body of water is alleviated. However, parents should keep an eye on their children well after swim time is over to ensure they aren’t presenting symptoms of dry drowning. These symptoms include trouble breathing, coughing, vomiting, exhaustion or other unusual behavior for your child. Dry drowning often occurs while a child is asleep because water in the lungs causes children to vomit and then choke in a lying position.
If you suspect your child has swallowed a lot of water while at the pool or beach, ask a lifeguard for help as they can perform preliminary measures to reduce fluid build-up in the lungs. Next you should go to the emergency room where they can x-ray your child’s lungs to see how much fluid is present and monitor your tot for signs of dry drowning.
However, most of the time parents are unaware that their kids have swallowed enough water to cause dry drowning. It can happen accidentally to even the best swimmers. And kids who are not very strong in the water may unintentionally swallow water as they are gasping for air or coming up for a breath. Watching your child during and after swimming is essential and taking breaks during swim time helps avoid inhaling water from over-exertion.
As with other drowning concerns, parents should practice water safety guidelines. Kids should always be supervised by an adult while swimming. Pools should be fenced and gated to avoid children straying into the area without supervision. Kids age four and older should have swim lessons and parents should be skilled in CPR in case of an emergency. Everyone in your family should wear a life jacket while boating.
Dry drowning and secondary drowning can occur to adults too but these conditions are more likely in children whose air passages are much smaller. Also, babies, toddlers and young children are usually not strong swimmers and are more likely to inhale water. Don’t let your daredevil, water-fearless child fool you. Even children who act like fish can dry drown.
Play it safe this spring and summer while swimming and afterwards. Know the signs of dry drowning and act quickly if you have concerns.