Dry drowning is a potentially fatal condition. It’s also known as “secondary drowning.” We wanted to highlight this condition as it’s not well-known and the danger is in its subtlety.
Dry drowning can occur after your child inadvertently swallows a small amount of water. The ingested water causes throat spasms of the vocal cords and airways. The spasms can generate a significant amount of negative pressure against the lungs. Fluid and protein can build up dangerously and damage the lungs. The lungs cannot do their job. There is no or insufficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The Danger Is That The Drowning Happens Slowly
The process of secondary drowning builds over days. Symptoms may not appear until 12-24 hours after ingesting the water. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not specifically track dry drowning deaths. However, out of the nearly 4,000 total or near-drowning accidents in the U.S. each year, 1-5% are estimated to be secondary drownings.
Dry Drowning Symptoms
The main symptoms are coughing and difficulty breathing due to the fluid build-up. The younger the child, the more difficult may be to notice.
Look for these signs:
Faster than usual breathing
Noticeable chest/stomach movements
Behavioral changes (The child may become sleepy or agitated due to the buildup of carbon dioxide.)
How This Condition Is Diagnosed
The child usually appears ill or “off”
Vital signs are abnormal; crackles may be heard in the lungs
Chest x-rays can show areas of “wet” lungs
*Be aware that the condition may not be readily diagnosed and require additional trips to the MD or emergency room if your child does not appear to be getting better!
Treatment depends on the seriousness of the condition.
Intubation in cases of severe water inhalation
Check with your MD to see when (if) your child can re-enter the water. The condition should be mentioned should your child ever require surgery, any hospitalization or undergo a medical procedure.
Adults can also develop this condition. It should also be noted that this condition, also known as pulmonary edema, can be caused by infections, certain medications, anesthesia, and some other situations.