Anyone spending time in or near water should be mindful of the very real danger of drowning, even for the most experienced swimmers. While most people are familiar with the dangers of drowning, few realize that some drowning deaths can occur after leaving the water. Although rare, “dry drowning” cases do happen, and unfortunately children are the most likely to experience it.
What is Dry Drowning?
Dry drowning is a blanket term used to describe water entering the respiratory system in some way. In some cases, a small amount of water enters the respiratory system through the nose, causing a spasm in the airway that can cause it to close. In secondary drowning cases, water enters into the lungs where it prevents the body from converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. The first situation is immediately apparent, but the second example can take up to 24 hours to visibly manifest.
How to Identify Dry Drowning
Parents generally live in a constant state of vigilance for their children’s safety, so while it’s important to remember that dry drowning cases are dangerous and can turn deadly, they are rare and only represent 1–2% of all drowning deaths. Parents should be alert for any changes in their children’s behavior after playing in the water. The symptoms of dry drowning often include:
- Sleepiness or lethargy. If your child suddenly seems fatigued after playing in the water, contact a pediatrician before allowing him or her to go to sleep. The child may not be getting enough oxygen through his or her bloodstream, and sleep can be fatal in this is the case.
- Difficulty breathing or rapid, shallow breaths.
- As the person tries to breathe with the obstruction, coughing can sometimes occur as a reflex and build as a result of the body lacking oxygen.
- The extra work needed to breath and coughing can cause dizziness and vomiting.
- Forgetfulness or strange behavior. Respiratory problems can lead to oxygen deprivation, which can cause kids to feel dizzy or woozy.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your child after he or she has been in the water, seek medical attention immediately. Also, if your child required a water rescue of any kind, be sure to have a medical professional or pediatrician examine him or her as soon as possible. Anytime your child has difficulty breathing, consider it a medical emergency and call 911 immediately.
Preventing Dry Drowning
It’s important to know how to prevent dry drowning, and parents can take the following steps to minimize the risk of any type of drowning:
- Proper supervision should always be a given when children are playing in or around water
- Never leave children unattended near any drowning hazard, even for a minute
- Make sure kids have easy access to safety devices like pool noodles, floatation rings, arm floaters, lifejackets, and anything else they need to swim safely
In addition to the above steps, the best way to keep your kids safe in the water is to teach them how to swim. It’s best to start swimming at an early age so kids can get more comfortable being in and moving in the water. Kids who know how to swim are far less likely to drown and will learn early how to control their breathing.
What Can You Do Next?
Parents have plenty to worry about, and dry drowning cases are so rare that it’s not necessary to obsess over such a minute possibility. However, it’s vital to recognize the signs of dry drowning and secondary drowning so you can seek medical attention if necessary. As long as parents properly supervise their children, teach them how to swim, and provide them with appropriate safety equipment, they can keep their children’s risk of drowning and dry drowning at a minimum.