Dry Drowning: Know the Signs

Dry Drowning: Know the Signs

06-25-2017

What is dry drowning?

The terms "dry drowning" and "secondary drowning" (also called submersion injuries) are often used interchangeably -- even by some experts -- but they're actually different conditions,

In dry drowning, someone takes in a small amount of water through his or her nose and/or mouth, and it causes a spasm in the airway, causing it to close up. In secondary drowning, the little bit of water gets into the lungs and causes inflammation or swelling that makes it difficult or impossible for the body to transfer oxygen to carbon dioxide and vice versa. Dry drowning usually happens soon after exiting the water, but with secondary drowning, there can be a delay of up to 24 hours before the person shows signs of distress. Both can cause trouble breathing and, in worst-case scenarios, death.

Is it common?

Rest assured, dry drowning and secondary drowning incidents, while incredibly scary, are rare, and account for only about 1 to 2 percent of drowning incidents.

How to spot it

The good news is, dry drowning or secondary drowning (submersion injury) doesn't happen out of nowhere. No matter a person’s age, be on the lookout for:

  • Water rescue. Any person pulled from the pool needs medical attention.
  • Coughing. Persistent coughing or coughing associated with increased work of breathing needs to be evaluated.
  • Increased "work of breathing." Rapid shallow breathing, nostril flaring, or where you can see between the child's ribs or the gap above their collarbone when they breathe, means they're working harder to breathe than normal. This is a sign that you should seek medical help immediately.
  • Sleepiness. It could mean not enough oxygen is getting into to her blood. Don't go to bed until a doctor gives you the go-ahead.
  • Forgetfulness or change in behavior. Similarly, a dip in oxygen level could cause a person to feel sick or woozy.
  • Throwing up. Vomiting could be a sign of stress from the body as a result of the inflammation and sometimes a lack of oxygen, also from persistent coughing and gagging.

What to do

Any time you're concerned and think there are symptoms of dry or secondary drowning, whether you're in your backyard pool or on a beach vacation, to go to the ER, a primary care doctor, or a national urgent care center. But if a person is really struggling to breathe, call 911 and/or head to the emergency room right away.

How it's treated

Treatment for submersion injury depends on the severity of the patient's symptoms. The doctor will check vital signs, oxygen level, and work of breathing. Patients with more mild symptoms just need careful observation, in more serious cases, the doctor may also do a chest x-ray or give oxygen, or appropriate medical procedures in extreme cases.

How to prevent it

Prevention is the same for dry drowning and secondary drowning as it is for any other kind of drowning:

  • Swim lessons
  • Supervision
  • Water safety measures.

As long as you practice water safety, pay close attention to your kids after swimming, and get them checked out if you notice any signs of trouble breathing, you shouldn't have to constantly stress about dry drowning or secondary drowning.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned, please seek medical attention. Click here to see the full article.

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