Close look on dry drowning

Fact Checked

Dry drowning and secondary drowning can occur hours after a child is out of the water. There are measures to keep children safe. Remember that these types of drowning can occur while the child breathes water into the lungs. Oftentimes, it happens when struggling while swimming, but also the result of getting water into his/her mouth or being dunked.

Dry drowning can also occur among adults, but quite common among children due to their small size. When it comes to dry drowning, water does not reach the lungs. Instead, breathing in water causes the vocal chords of the child to spasm and shut close after leaving the water. This closes the airways which makes it difficult to breathe. Secondary drowning occurs in a different manner. Once the airway opens, it allows water to enter the lungs while it accumulates which results to pulmonary edema that causes difficulty breathing.

The indications of dry drowning typically manifest after any incident in the water while secondary drowning starts later, usually 1-24 hours after. Remember that both types are considered rare though.

Dry drowning
The child might also have behavioral changes such as irritability or appears tired.

What are the indications?

Both dry drowning and secondary drowning have similar symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling tired

The child might also have behavioral changes such as irritability or appears tired. It simply indicates that the brain is not receiving enough oxygen.

What should I do if dry drowning is suspected?

Once a child shows any indications of dry drowning or secondary drowning, seek immediate medical care. Even though the symptoms in most cases settle on their own, it is vital to have the child checked out. Generally, the symptoms are rather mild and steadily improve over time.

Any issues that might develop can be treated if medical care is sought right away. Make sure that you will monitor the child for 24 hours after he/she had any issues in the water.

In case the symptoms do not subside or worsen, bring the child to the nearest emergency department. A chest X-ray is performed and an IV line is started once the child is admitted.

Since there are no medications for dry or secondary drowning, the child is given supportive care in a healthcare facility. This involves checking if the airways are clear and monitoring the level of oxygen. If there is severe difficulty breathing, a breathing tube might be used temporarily.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on dry drowning is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize the indications of dry drowning, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are located in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Surrey, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

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