Dry drowning – what is it? Around this time of year, we always get a few questions from worried parents about drowning and especially, “What exactly is dry drowning?” When parents ask this question, they are usually asking about delayed or secondary drowning. Let me educate you about both.
With dry drowning, water never enters the victim’s lungs. Rather, it causes the vocal chords to spasm and shuts off the airway without actually filling the lungs with water. It looks a lot like normal drowning because it occurs in real time and causes asphyxiation. An example of a situation where this could occur is your child being hit in the face (with their mouth open) by a big wave. Water does not enter the lungs (as in drowning) but causes the vocal chords to shut off the airway thus cutting of the oxygen supply. you would notice difficulty with breathing right away. This is not an
Delayed drowning, sometimes called secondary drowning, is different and typically what parents are asking about. Water gets into the lungs in small amounts — not enough to disable breathing right away. Instead, it sits there and inhibits the lungs’ ability to oxygenate blood. From there, the victim starts to have more and more trouble breathing over the course of several hours.
Here’s what you need to look for, even hours after you’ve left the pool or beach:
- Difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain, or throwing up. Look for rapid and shallow breaths, nostril flaring, or a pronounced gap in the ribs when breathing. These are all signs a child is working too hard to get oxygen.
- Extreme tiredness. Big-time fatigue can be a sign that the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen.
- Any odd change in behavior. Kids in the beginning stages of delayed drowning may be really cranky, argumentative, or combative.
- Odd physical changes. Look out for blue lips or pale skin.
If your child displays these symptoms, do not delay – seek medical attention. However, do not panic and keep your child away from the wonderful world of water! Dry drowning and delayed drowning are very rare. They make up only 1-2% of all drowning incidents.