Fort Worth, Texas,
10:02 AM

Dry Drowning and Children: What Parents Should Know

Dry drowning is back in the news after a Florida mom shared her 4-year-old daughter's story on social media.

These stories can be scary for parents, 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 decade.

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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last year i was following your drowning campaign and it was great , i read a story here about an 8 years old child who drown during swim lesson which i couldn't imagine how this could happen ( i never forgot this story ) until last week , my daughter is been in swimming lessons since she is 4 months , definitely i was with her in the water during the first two levels, now she is almost 3 and graduated to level 3 , i thought i will take a break from being in water but I’m constantly watching her through the glass , two weeks ago her father was talking to me i didn't look at him and looking at my daughter , he made a comment what you worry about isn't she is safe , i replied yes but you know tragedy could happen and told him this girl story who Drown during swimming lesson and dry drowning , last week shortly after the lesson started , the 4 kids in the class where doing the monkey walk my daughter was number 3 in the raw , the first child begin to struggle and the instructor was helping her and all of a sudden my daughter hand slipped and she fall down the pool and the instructor wasn't giving attention as she was helping the other child , she was struggling under the water for about 7 seconds i stand up and kept banging the glass until her teacher notice and saved her , she seemed fine as she used to the submerged and get the ring from 4 ft deep pool during this lessons but she was terrified as this happened without notice ,
I’m writing this comment
1- to thank Cook Children's for all the effort they did at the drowning campaign last year
2- to warn families , please please please watch your child in the water even during swimming lesson , my child life worth every second of my attention while being in water or near water ,

Me and my husband will never forget these 7 second as long as we live, we can't imagine losing her in matter of seconds while being there, it's terrifying , Be careful parents please
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!