June 22, 2018

Dry Drowning Is a Misleading Term – What Are the Real Dangers?

By Beverly Hopps
Health Educator, Safe Kids WNC/Mission Children’s Hospital

You may have seen postings on social media about “dry drowning,” stories about kids who seemed perfectly fine after getting out of a pool, ocean or lake and then, suddenly, as much as a day later, end up with breathing difficulties and die.

It’s terrifying – but the fact is that this kind of sudden “dry drowning” with no prior symptoms just doesn’t occur.

In fact, most medical authorities – including such organizations as the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Emergency Physicians – discourage the use of the terms “dry drowning.” If a child seems completely normal after leaving the water and has no symptoms at all, that child did not drown.

That’s not to suggest that problems can’t arise after a child has left the water. They can – but they just don’t come out of nowhere!

What parents should know about possible drowning dangers:

  • If a child has minimal symptoms after being rescued – think the kind of sputtering and coughing he or she might experience after water “goes down the wrong pipe” at the dinner table – that child should be fine but should still be observed by an attentive caretaker.
  • If that child gets worse within 2 to 3 hours – i.e., develops coughing, breathing difficulties, sleepiness or confusion – he or she needs to get immediate medical attention.
  • If after a water rescue, a child has an excessive or prolonged cough, fast or hard breathing, or is not breathing normally or “acting right,” caretakers should seek immediate medical attention.

Of course, the key to preventing these and other worrisome episodes is to keep water safety top of mind this summer.

Top water safety tips:

  • Watch kids when they are in or around water, without being distracted. Keep young children within arm’s reach of an adult.  Teach your child to swim at an early age, at least by age 4.
  • Empty all tubs, buckets, containers and kiddie pools immediately after use. Store them upside down so they don’t collect water.
  • Close toilet lids and use toilet seat locks to prevent drowning. Keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  • Install fences around home pools. A pool fence should surround all sides of the pool and be at least four feet tall with self-closing and self-latching gates.
  • Know what to do in an emergency. Learning CPR and basic water-rescue skills may help you save a life.

Beverly Hopps is a Safe Kids Educator at Mission Children’s Hospital.

Click here for more information from Safe Kids WNC.