Dry drowning: How to spot the signs
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
As the weather gets warmer, more and more people will be making their way outdoors to enjoy the sunny days of summer at the nearest pool. Summer days spent outdoors typically conjure up thoughts of relaxation and fun, but safety around the water is of paramount concern during the season.
Every day, 10 people in the U.S. die of unintentional drowning, two of whom are children 14 years old or younger. Although not as common, drowning can actually occur hours after being in the water. This form of drowning is called "dry drowning," and most may not be aware of it.
So, what exactly is dry drowning, and how can it prevented?
Dry drowning mostly affects children and occurs on land after a child has been in the water and a small amount of water has been ingested and becomes trapped in the child's lungs. However, water in the lungs is not always present in cases of dry drowning.
Swallowing or choking on a small amount of water can sometimes irritate the throat enough to make the larynx spasm and constrict breathing. This occurrence, formally known as laryngospasm, causes swelling within the lungs and inhibits the body from getting oxygen, and the consequences can be deadly if not treated expeditiously.
And because dry drowning can occur either a few minutes after swimming or up to three days after, parents must keep an eye on their children for days after water exposure. The reason for the drastic difference in the time frame is a result of the way the each child's body reacts to the irritation.
The most threatening aspect of dry drowning is that is can be difficult to detect. Even if parents do not witness their child choking or coughing at the pool, the child may still be at risk. And many parents have misconceptions about what drowning looks and sounds like.
"Drowning conjures images of someone thrashing around in a body of water, not a child who went swimming several hours ago," states Dr. Danelle Fisher, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Parents should make themselves familiar with the symptoms of dry drowning so they can spot it quickly. The most easily observable symptoms are often vomiting, coughing and shortness of breath, but parents should also pay attention to how their child is acting. Additionally, if the child shows signs of extreme fatigue, exhibits an extreme change in behavior and/or develops pale or blue skin, parents should take the child to the nearest emergency room immediately.
"Treatment of dry drowning includes obtaining a chest X-ray, having an IV and being monitored for signs of respiratory distress or compromise," Fisher told Parenting.com.
Fortunately, cases of dry drowning are extremely rare and account for only 1 to 2 percent of drowning incidents, and an even smaller amount of these cases will result in a life-threatening emergency. Dry drowning is a progressive problem, so as long as symptoms are taken seriously and treated in a timely manner, the threat of death is low.
Prevention is the most effective way to reduce the risk of drowning. Experts suggest parents educate their children about water safety and teach them to swim at an early age. Swimming instructors like Terri Lees from the Red Cross believe the best age to learn how to swim is 4 or 5 because children are not fully competent swimmers until around age 6 or 7.
Watchful adult supervision at all times while children are in the pool is key. Parents should keep watch over their children while they are in the pool, and for added prevention, it may be helpful to develop a buddy system for water activities so experienced swimmers can be partnered with less experienced swimmers. Life jackets, pool fences and inflatable armbands are also options in to keep inexperienced swimmers safe.
For parents who want to be prepared for the worst case scenario, CPR lessons may be beneficial. The American Heart Association's Find a Course search tool is available online for those looking for a course in their area.
Additional tips and resources on drowning prevention can be found online under the Child Safety and Injury Prevention section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
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