Fort Worth, Texas,
11:48 PM

Dry Drowning and Children: What Parents Should Know

Dry drowning has been in the news quite a bit lately, but how much are your kids really at risk?

Few of the emergency and pediatric intensive care unit physicians at Cook Children’s have seen a case of dry downing. Cook Children’s Trauma registry shows only one case of dry drowning in the past nine years.

Dry and secondary drownings typically happen to children who struggle while swimming and take in a large amount of water.

Dry drowning never reaches the lungs, but the child takes in enough water to cause the child’s vocal chords to spasm or close up after he or she has left the water. The airways shut off and it’s hard for the child to breathe.

In secondary drowning, the water goes past the child’s airways and into the lungs, where it builds up and causes the child to have difficulty breathing.

Normally, dry drowning happens immediately after the drowning incident. Secondary drowning can take up to 1-24 hours after the drowning incident.

“I think this goes along with what we have been saying about all drowning prevention,” said Linda Thompson, M.D., a PICU pediatrician at Cook Children's. “Parents should keep a watchful eye on their children. They should never allow their kids to swim alone and they should not take their eyes off of them playing around any size of water from pools to plastic tubs or bathtubs.”

Symptoms range from trouble breathing, chest pain, lethargy and irritability.

Parents shouldn’t wait if their child has any of these symptoms or they are concerned about the large amount of water their child has swallowed. See a physician immediately.

Tips to prevent dry drowning or similar to other tips while you “Lifeguard Your Child”:

  • Watch to make sure your child has not inhaled a large amount of water.
  • Pools or other swimming should be closely monitored. Only swim where there is an adult present, watching the kids.
  • Children should learn to swim as early as possible.
  • Never let children swim alone.
  • Talk to your kids about not dunking another child’s head in the water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines drowning as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid” and the CDC does not distinguish between “wet” and “dry” drownings.

While dry drowning has gotten recent attention, “wet” drownings still remain the biggest threat to children. Through June 8, 2017, 20 children had been treated at Cook Children’s for drowning, including one death.

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Martha Anderson
I have read several articles that have recently been posted on social media this week. An important point in one of the articles that was emphasized the misleading term "swallowed" vs aspirating pool water. There is a huge difference and consequence in swallowing and aspirating. If parents are monitoring their child while swimming, knowing what aspiration looks like could be vital. Just a thought!