You may have already heard about secondary drowning, also called a submersion injury. Dry drowning is not an interchangable term for secondary drowning - dry drowning is a completely different thing. Both, however, are equally dangerous. In fact, a four-year-old may have been the victim of just such an atypical drowning this past week.
Fortunately, both cases are also extremely rare - atypical drownings represent one to two percent of all drowning incidents. You'll have warning signs, and time to react to them.
With a secondary drowning, water gets into the lungs and begins to cause inflammation and swelling that makes it difficult to get oxygen into the bloodstream. The fluid buildup in the lungs creates a condition called pulmonary edema. The individual might not be in distress for hours or even days after the incident.
Dry drowning, however, involves inflammation and swelling that happens in the airway - water gets into the nose or mouth and this causes a spasm that shuts down the airway, and because of the impaired airway, the dry drowning victim has trouble breathing right away.
Water safety measures: Prevention measures build to keep your child safe from drowning work on atypical drowning too! Make sure you review your setup at home and in a vacation area.
Keep an adult nearby: Drowning can happen very quickly. An adult should always be monitoring kids around the water closely and enforcing pool safety rules.
Make sure your kids know how to swim: The more skilled your child is at swimming, the less likely they will be to inhale water or go under.
Water rescues and close calls: Any child who has had a close call with the pool requiring them to be pulled out should be taken to see their pediatrician for a quick evaluation.
Vomiting (and possibly diarrhea): A lack of oxygen and inflammation can cause stress that can manifest as throwing up or other gastrointestinal distress.
Persistent coughing: Coughing after a trip to the pool, especially in conjunction with other signs of difficulty breathing, should be evaluated.
Gasping, heaving breaths, or rapid shallow breathing: All of these can indicate that a child is working hard to breathe and needs medical attention immediately.
Sleepiness, fatigue, and other changes in behaviour: Not getting enough oxygen often manifests in fatigue and sleepiness, listlessness, and wooziness. Be wary about putting your child to bed if they've had a close call in the pool before they've seen their doctor.
If you have any concerns about your child's behaviour following water play, call a pediatrician right away and ask for advice. But if your child is having difficulty breathing, always call 911 or head to the emergency room - the treatment your child needs might not be available in other situations.