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
- 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.
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