One of the scarier headlines on social media for parents contains the phrase “dry drowning” - and it can be a scary thing. While extremely rare, these incidents can be prevented. So let’s discuss what dry drowning is, the signs of it, and how it can be prevented. 

It’s actually two different things - even though the terms are sometimes interchanged - but there is dry drowning and secondary drowning.

Dry drowning is when a person takes in a small amount of water into their airway, and spasms cause the airway to close up. So, water is ‘blocking’ the airway, even though the person isn’t submerged in water. Symptoms begin to show soon after exiting the water.

Secondary drowning is when water gets into the lungs, causing inflammation or swelling, which creates issues for the lungs in transitioning oxygen to carbon dioxide. Symptoms may not show for up to 24 hours after exiting the water.

What do you need to look for as a parent:

- If your child has been rescued from the water. It’s not over after CPR. Take your child or call a pediatrician to make sure everything is okay.

- Persistent coughing. And if breathing is more laborious than normal.

- An extreme, unusual fatigue in the child. Because less oxygen is getting to the bloodstream, the child may be getting sleepy. But do NOT put the child to bed unless the doctor gives you the go-ahead.

- Behavior changes/forgetfulness. Like with the bloodstream, there’s less oxygen getting to the brain.

- Vomiting. The body is stressed, and vomiting is a symptom of this stress.

As a parent, when you identify the symptoms, you’re left with the ‘what do i do’ moment. Any time you’re concerned about the health of your child, call your pediatrician right away. The doctor will know what questions to ask and what to identify to gauge the seriousness of the situation.

If your child is showing extreme struggles breathing, call 911. Because of the nature of secondary or dry drowning, the required treatments may not be available outside of the emergency room.

In terms of prevention, teaching children the proper way to swim, so swim lessons help reduce the risk of children going under water and taking water in. Make sure they wear flotation devices as needed. And, as always, supervision while children are in and close to water is very important.

Dry drowning is a scary headline to read, and while it is rare, know the symptoms so that you can act quickly. At your next visit to the pediatrician, take a minute to discuss dry drowning with them so that you are fully informed.