Is Dry Drowning Really a Thing?
It’s all over the news and social media right now, and parents are freaked out. As if we didn’t have enough anxiety over keeping our children alive, we are supposed to monitor our children’s breathing for a week after they’ve been in water. As a mother to almost 5 little ones, I cannot afford to be landlocked. I need the pool, every day, or I would lose my mind throughout the summer. So naturally, I started researching the whole “Dry Drowning” epidemic that seems to be occurring everywhere. I suggest you do the same. According to ISLA (International Surf Lifesaving Association): “There are no medically accepted conditions known as near-drowning, dry drowning, and secondary drowning. The World Health Organization, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation, the Wilderness Medical Society, the Utstein Style system, the International Lifesaving Federation, the International Conference on Drowning, Starfish Aquatics Institute, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all discourage the use of these terms. (WHO, Circulation 2003;108:2565; Wilderness Environ Med 2016;27:236; International Life Saving Federation; Handbook on Drowning: Prevention, Rescue, Treatment. Berlin: Springer, 2006; Starfish Aquatics Institute; Circulation 2005,112:IV-133; American Red Cross Statement on Secondary Drowning, Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2004;53:447; Snopes; CDC.)” While I do not want to encourage these terms farther, I do want to differentiate what everyone is talking about - at every pool, in every city. What we are seeing everywhere, scaring us, is not the dry drowning people have labeled it; it is secondary drowning. Dry drowning is something else altogether. I’m going to break both down and give you the warning signs so you can put your mind at ease and know what to look for, instead of constantly being on edge. Oh, and the other point I want to make is that both of these tragedies are VERY rare, but of course, it doesn’t matter because they are possible. So, let’s learn the difference between dry and secondary drowning – and help one another stay sane this summer at the pool!
Dry DrowningDry drowning means that water never enters the victim’s lungs. Instead, water causes the vocal cords to spasm and close off the airways. This occurs while in the water, not hours, days, or weeks later. Dry drowning causes asphyxiation and occurs in the moment. It looks a lot like normal drowning. What does drowning look like? There is little to no thrashing, but more of a sinking situation that occurs. It often happens right in front of adults because it only takes the blink of an eye – and doesn’t cause much of a scene.
Secondary Drowning (Or Delayed Drowning)This is what is being describe by the media outlets right now. Delayed drowning is when a small amount of water does enter the lungs and slowly inhibits the lung’s ability to do their job. The victim has trouble breathing over a period of time (hours or days) before he or she ‘drowns,’ but there are very noticeable signs that should raise a red flag to a parent if this is happening. With secondary drowning, you may notice your child swallow, gag, or cough on water at the pool. Sometimes a large belch even occurs. This does not mean water has entered the lungs; again, this is quite a rare probability, but it is a sign to watch your child and note any behavior or health changes. Things to watch for in the hours following:
- Hard Coughing
- Breathing Challenges (rapid, shallow breaths)
- Chest Pain
- Blue Lips
- Pale Skin
- Extreme Fatigue (This means oxygen is not making it to the brain at a normal rate)
- Crankiness or Acting Out in Uncharacteristic Ways