Dry drowning. It sounds terrifying like it has to be a work of fiction, but recently dry drowning has been a buzzword that’s circulated through mom groups and Facebook posts. I recently was scrolling through my Facebook feed when a mother from my mom’s group posted this outrageously titled article. “Dry Drowning.” I laughed to myself thinking it was another scare tactic that I had become all too familiar this past year after having my first child. But, for once, I had time to kill waiting in the pediatrician’s office. As I read, my attitude changed from slight indifference to absolute horror. When they called my daughter’s name I couldn’t have flown quicker through that door.
When the physician finally arrived she only got out a “How is…” before I cut her off.
“Dry drowning, is this a real thing? Should I not be letting her get in the pool this summer since she’s only a baby? I was thinking of doing a mommy and me swimming class, but CLEARLY that’s not an option. Why have I never heard of this before?” My torrent of questions filled the room quicker than you could come up for air.
But alas, like every physician mine was no different in calming my well warranted but rather unnecessary concerns. She was quick to point out that there are two types of “dry drowning” (greaaat), but the amount of children that are affected are so low that there aren’t even statistics on the matter.
Secondary drowning only occurs when your child is around a body of water, whether it’s the pool, lake, or bathtub. They’ll inhale a small amount of water, cough it up, and then proceed on their merry way. The water that they’ve inhaled, which you think they’ve coughed up, can sometimes become trapped in their lungs. When the body cannot efficiently remove the water the lungs become irritated and secrete a fluid, as a result children drown, not in water, but in their own bodily fluids. Dry drowning occurs when water is inhaled, but it doesn’t make its way into your child’s lungs. It instead causes a spasm that eventually causes the airway to become constricted and closed (CBS).
Recently, there have been stories across media outlets with mothers posting pictures and stories in order to raise awareness of these tragic situations because they can be so easily prevented. Since there is hardly any dialog about this type of drowning, unnecessary deaths have occurred. It sounds incredibly scary, but it’s actually very easy to spot and even easier to fix.
Signs may appear hours or up to a day after the incident. If you noticed your child spluttering in the water it’s important to keep this type of disaster in the back of your mind, and if you see any of these signs you should IMMEDIATELY take your child to the ER instead of the pediatrician. Dry or secondary drowning will typically present itself with one or more of these symptoms after a close call in the water:
-Coughing: if your child continues to cough and wheeze with labored breathing then he or she needs to be evaluated.
-Working for breath: rapid shallow breathing, intense concentration, overly pronounced movements between their ribs or above their collarbones, and nostril flaring are all signs that your child is struggling for breath. This is not normal if they’re at a resting period or if it goes on longer than a minute.
-Sleepiness: it’s normal for your child to be whipped after a day at the pool. However, there’s a big difference from being sleepy and needing a nap, to being incredibly lethargic and unable to do normal activities. If you feel like your child is abnormally tired it’d probably be a good idea to get a green light from a physician before putting them to sleep.
-Forgetful or odd behavior: if your child is losing oxygen he or she may begin to act erratically. They can forget things, feel sick, woozy, or becoming increasingly agitated.
-Vomiting: throwing up is a huge red flag that should instantly be taken seriously. This is a definite sign that they’re not getting enough oxygen and the vomiting can result from their short breaths, gagging, and inflammation in the lungs (Parents).
There’s not a set cure-all for this type of situation. Once your child has been inspected at the ER the physician may just have you keep an eye on him or her. This can be rather nerve-wracking and you can always opt for an overnight for safety precautions. In other cases, if their oxygen levels are too low they may bive them oxygen until their levels become stabilized. In situations where their respiratory functions are failing, they may hook them up to a ventilator, but again this is a very extreme and rare scenario.
The best way to prevent this kind of scare is to enroll your children in swimming lessons. Clearly mishaps may happen in these as well, but if they’re better equipped to fair water then the chances of this happening down the road are even slimmer. It’s also important to not leave young children unattended next to a lake or pool as they can quickly topple in at the blink of an eye. Flotation devices are another method that ensures water safety. Overall, dry and secondary drowning are incredibly rare, but it is extremely important to educate yourself so that you can identify this situation not only in your child but other children as well.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to educate other mothers with this information and be able to breathe easier next time you’re out for some swim time fun!