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Dry Drowning? What is it?

Warmer months are here, and we are already seeing the posts and articles being shared with the words "dry drowning." We hope to take a few minutes to help explain what usually happened when you hear the words "dry drowning." And we hope that we stop seeing this term used, because it is not a medical term. In fact we feel it only incites fear into parents, instead of leaving you feeling educated and prepared.

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So what is drowning? Let's start there: "Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes are classified as death, morbidity and no morbidity." This explanation was adopted in 2002 by the medical community.

There was also consensus that the terms wet, dry, active, passive, silent, and secondary drowning should no longer be used. This is because drowning occurs due to a lack of oxygen, not the volume of water present leading to the drowning.

Ok, so why do we still hear it? What are these cases? I mean children have died from "dry drowning" right?

Yes, tragically, children have died. But what they died from was drowning. A variety of mechanical mechanisms could have taken place, such as water being forced into a child's mouth or nose or inhaling water. Most of the time what has happened is water was forced into the trachea, and irritated the voice box (larynx), which may cause the vocal cords to close over the windpipe, and/or cause spasms which leads to breathing difficulty and low oxygen available to the lungs. There is also this lingering term "secondary drowning." This term also is not medically relevant, but generally is used when describing a situation where a water has entered the lungs. This can also lead to other conditions such as life threatening pneumonia or pulmonary edema. In either case, the issue is drowning.

There are signs though; this is not a sudden event. This becomes an issue when parents are unaware that what they are seeing in their child are actually symptoms of drowning. Rather, their child's symptoms are interpreted to be related to another illness, or just a normal tired two year old.

Symptoms to be cautious of are:

  • Abnormal breathing patterns, difficulty breathing or talking

  • Irritable behavior (can be hard to discern in a 2 year old though...)

  • Coughing

  • Chest pain

  • Lethargy

  • Lightheaded or dizziness

  • Confusion (due to the brain not receiving enough oxygen)

If your child is abnormally tired after swimming, seek medical assistance.

Another problem with young children is that they can swallow water while swimming. Hyponatremia can occur. This occurs when too much water is ingested upsetting the balance of sodium to water in the body (too much water, not enough sodium). This is also called water intoxication.

What can you do to avoid this? To start with, teaching your child proper breath control is important. The basic understanding that when water rises on their body they should inhale and close their mouth could save their life. In addition, be tuned into any relevant symptoms after water play, especially if you have been in the water a long time.

Breath control: mouth closed tight, eyes opened.

Keeping your children safe, in and around the water, is a priority for us at Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning. If you are ever concerned about your child's well being, please seek appropriate medical assistance. It is always better to be cautious of your child's well being and have peace of mind they everything is okay. But please know, "dry drowning" is not real.

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