Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning
Most people think that you can only drown while you are in water and while this is true, there are two related medical disorders known as “dry” and “secondary” drowning that can occur after the individual has left the water. Dry and secondary drowning are not as common as wet drowning but nevertheless, they still affects a fair number of individuals each year.
Dry drowning is by far more common in children than in adults and it may occur when one breathes in water into the lungs. This can occur when one is struggling to swim but it can also occur as a result of getting water in the back of the throat during a playful dunk.
In dry drowning, the water does not end up in the lungs. Instead as soon as the water reaches the back of the throat it causes severe spasm of the vocal cords, which shuts of all air to the lungs. Without air, survival is not possible.
In secondary drowning the airways remain open and this allows the water to enter and flood the lungs; this prevents oxygen exchange and also makes breathing very difficult.
In most cases, symptoms of dry drowning tend to occur soon after any incident involving water. Symptoms of secondary drowning usually take 1-24 hours to develop after the water accident.
Fortunately both dry drowning and secondary drowning are rare events. There is no conclusive data being perfectly cataloged but estimates suggest they account for less than 1% of all drowning deaths.
Symptoms of Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning
The symptoms of dry drowning and secondary drowning are similar and include the following:
– Dry hacking cough
– Vague chest pain
– Shortness of breath
– Extreme fatigue
– Facial flushing
– Extreme irritability, which occurs as a result of drop in oxygen to the brain
What are consequences?
The consequences of dry and secondary drowning may include permanent brain damage, breathing difficulties or even death.
How to manage?
If you suspect that your child has symptoms of dry or secondary drowning, seek immediate medical help-this means going to the emergency room and not your primary healthcare provider. A doctor simply does not have adequate equipment or supplies to treat these two conditions in his/her office. Even though symptoms do spontaneously go away in most people, it is vital to get checked out by a healthcare professional. The work up usually includes a chest x-ray and monitoring the amount of oxygen in blood.
Most mild symptoms disappear in a few hours but if the symptoms are severe, the child may need admission overnight for monitoring. Children with severe symptoms may need to tube down the throat to assist with breathing for a few days.
How can dry drowning and secondary drowning be prevented?
The most important thing is for parents to be educated about water safety. Here are some tips when going to the local swimming pool or the beach:
- Always observe your children whenever they are near water
- Only let your children swim in the presence of lifeguards
- Do not leave your child unattended at the pool or the beach
- Read about drowning awareness and water safety.
- Your home pool should be completely fenced. Ensure gates are in proper working order and automatically shut.
- Do not let your guard down just because the pool is shallow- drowning can occur even in a bathtub or s small kiddie plastic pool.
Today, most swimming pools offer water safety for children of all ages. Finally, many water related accidents in older individuals occur as a result of alcohol/drugs. So teach your children about the adverse risks of such behavior.