You watch your children closely when they’re at the pool. You don’t swim anywhere there’s not a lifeguard, and you don’t leave your children alone with any amount of water not even in the bath tub. All the precautions in the world are never enough to ward off the latest fatal illnesses running rampant through your Facebook newsfeed. The latest of these articles happens to be dry drowning and secondary drowning.
Drowning is medically defined as trouble breathing after you get water in your airway. This usually happens when swimming or bathing, but it can happen just by getting water in your mouth or being dunked in water. It can be fatal, but it’s not always.
Dry drowning and secondary drowning are not medical terms, but they do point to two very rare conditions that occur mostly in children. With dry drowning, water never reaches the lungs. Instead water in the airway causes the child’s vocal cords to contract and close up shutting off the airway. This makes it difficult for the child to breathe, and as a parent you would notice signs of it right away. They wouldn’t appear out of the blue several days later.
Secondary drowning occurs when a little bit of water does actually make it to the lungs. It can irritate the lungs’ lining and fluid can build up, causing a condition called pulmonary edema. You’d likely notice your child having trouble breathing right away, and it might get worse over the next 24 hours.
Both events are very rare. They make up only 1%-2% of all drownings.
Also, there are warning signs you can identify before anything terrible happens. No matter your child’s age, be on the lookout for:
- Water rescue. Any child pulled from the pool needs medical attention. At least call a healthcare professional.
- Coughing. Persistent coughing or coughing associated with trouble breathing needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.
- Hard work to breathe. Rapid shallow breathing, nostril flaring, or where you can see between the child’s ribs or the gap above their collarbone when they breathe. These are signs the child is working harder to breathe than normal. Seek medical help immediately.
- Sleepiness. Was your child just excitedly playing in the pool and is now all of a sudden really sleepy? It could be a sign he’s not getting enough oxygen. Don’t put your child to bed before a healthcare professional gives the okay.
- Forgetfulness or change in behavior. A dip in oxygen can also cause dizziness and wooziness.
- Throwing up. Vomiting is a sign the body is in stress either from inflammation or from a lack of oxygen especially if it is followed by coughing and gagging.
If your child has any breathing problems after getting out of the water, get medical help. Although in most cases the symptoms will go away on their own, it’s important to get him checked out. Any problems that do develop are usually treatable if you get medical care right away. Your job is to keep a close eye on your child for the 24 hours after he has had any problems in the water.
The most important thing you can do is help prevent drowning in the first place.
- Always watch closely when your child is in or around water.
- Only allow swimming in areas that have lifeguards.
- Never let your child swim alone.
- Never leave your baby alone near any amount of water — even in your home.
- If you have a pool ensure that it is fenced off.
- Enroll you and your children in water safety classes. There are even programs that introduce children 6 months to 3 years of age to the water.
- Don’t let your guard down even if the water isn’t deep.
It’s important to stay cautious especially around water, but remember just because you see something on your Facebook newsfeed it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you or your children. Remember dry drowning and secondary drowning account for 1%-2% of cases. As long as you follow these basic water safety guidelines your children should be able to enjoy their summer without you living in fear. You don’t have to stare at them while they sleep for days after they’ve splashed around in the kiddie pool.