Symptoms of dry drowning every parent should know

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You may think your child is safe once he or she leaves the water — but for some, fatalities can occur even 24 hours after swimming. 

As the summer months heat up, it’s important for parents and caregivers to be extra vigilant about water safety, including taking precautions against the little-known condition called dry drowning. It can kill up to 3500 people per year, including this four-year-old boy. And while dry drowning can affect adults, it’s “more common” in children because of the small size of their bodies, said WebMD.

See the symptoms of dry drowning below:

Coughing

“Persistent coughing or coughing associated with increased work of breathing” should be brought to the attention of a medical personnel — if not immediately — said Parents.com.

Shallow breathing and trouble breathing

The child will be gasping or coughing for air. He or she may feel like they can’t catch their breath

Nausea and/or vomiting 

Vomiting can sometimes be triggered by persistent coughing. It’s also a “sign of stress from the body as a result of the inflammation and sometimes a lack of oxygen,” said pediatrician Kathleen Berchelmann to Parents.com

Confusion and exhaustion 

An enhanced state of confusion or exhaustion may be a result of the brain’s lack of oxygen. 

Don’t just put your child down for a nap — be wary of these symptoms. 

Chest pain

Chest pain could be associated with extreme coughing or vomiting. 

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According to Parents.com, dry drowning accounts for only about “2 percent of drowning incidents” — but symptoms can emerge after the child leaves the water. Parents.com explains that while “dry” and “secondary” are often used interchangeably, each may bring different symptoms.

Unlike wet drowning — which happens when “submerged” underwater, filling the lungs with water — water never reaches the lungs during dry drowning. “Instead, breathing in water causes your child’s vocal cords to spasm and close up after he’s already left the pool, ocean, or lake,” according to WebMd. Since the airways are closed off, breathing is compromised. Symptoms occur soon after the child leaves the water.

Alternatively, secondary drowning is when water reaches and builds up in the lungs, causing pulmonary edema and making it difficult to breathe. Signs of secondary drowning are evident later, within one to 24 hours after the child leaves the water.

“When they first get out of the water, they may cough and then will normally be okay. As the day goes on, breathing gets a bit faster and just progresses. They will be working harder to breathe, with the belly moving in and out or the ribs showing the strain,” said Dr. Ray Pitetti, an associate medical director of emergency pediatric medicine, to the Daily Mail.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4, after birth defects. 

According to the CDC, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates, with most drowning incidents occurring in home swimming pools. It’s estimated that nearly 800 children in the United States die every year from drowning, with two-thirds of these deaths taking place between the months of May through August.  

There are steps parents can take to prevent such occurrences. Read on to learn more essential pool safety tips — it can save lives.

There should always be a “water watcher” on duty

Since a drowning can occur in as little as 25 seconds, adults must never leave a child alone in a pool and must always be at arms reach. Turning away for even a second can increase the risk of drowning. Water watchers should not be on their phones and should be hyperaware, even if a lifeguard is present. There is no room for distraction, even if many adults are present. 

“Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than 5 minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time,” the CDC says.

According to Parents, in 9 out of 10 drownings, parents say they had been supervising at the time.

Pools should be surrounded by fences 

“Many of these deaths occur when children are not expected to be swimming or when they have unanticipated access to water. Toddlers are naturally curious; that’s why we must implement other strategies, such as pool fencing and door locks,” says Dr. Sarah Denny, from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“A four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing,” writes the CDC. The fences should be at least four feet high and the latch should be at least 54 inches from the ground. Tip: Toys should be kept out of the pool when not in use so kids aren’t as tempted to enter the pool area. 

Some parents install a pool alarm for extra precaution, but the device doesn’t replace parental supervision. 

Formal swimming lessons are essential 

According to reports, swimming lessons can help reduce the risk of drowning in children aged one to four by 88 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t suggest swim lessons for children under 1-year-old and factors such as his or her comfortability in the water to physical statuses will play a part in choosing when and which program is best. 

It’s important to note that lessons, while beneficial, don’t “drown proof” a child. According to the AAP, children’s basic swim skills should include “ability to enter the water, surface, turn around, propel oneself for at least 25 yards, float on or tread water, and exit the water.”

Drowning isn’t like the movies 

Unlike what is portrayed in the movies, drowning can be silent: No splashing, no kicking, no yelling. It’s quick, and can only take as little as 25 seconds for a child to drown. That’s why it’s important for parents and supervisors to be vigilant and hyperaware. 

“Toddlers don’t yell or splash, and they sink fast,” warns Dr. Steven Kernie to Parents

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However, each is equally dangerous, making it all the more important for parents to look out for these symptoms even after an incident occurs. If a parent notices these aforementioned signs, they should either call their pediatrician or 911.

How can you prevent dry and secondary drowning? Keep an eye on the kids, install fences around the pool and schedule swimming lessons. Plus, CPR is a life-saving skill to have — and educate other parents on dry drowning dangers.

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