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Dispelling the Hysteria Surrounding Dry Drowning

dry drowning

Drowning is a real and tragic occurrence, and remains the primary cause of unintentional death in children between the ages of 1 and 4 each year, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Of these deaths, nearly all occur in swimming pools.

However, a recent flurry of hysteria and misinformation has been spreading across the Internet and social media channels concerning the dangers of dry drowning.  This term refers to sudden and asymptomatic fatalities caused by a buildup of fluid in the lungs hours or days after a trip to the pool.

Spurred by terrifying media reports of recent tragedies, KinderMender has witnessed an influx of swimmers walk through our doors, accompanied by parents who are rightfully anxious about the possibility that the same could happen to their child.

The truth, however, is that dry drowning does not actually exist.

The idea that a child could be submerged underwater, swallowing just enough to get into the lungs and cause delayed respiratory failure without any significant symptoms is, in a word, misleading.

Any event that would cause a child to breathe water into his or her lungs would be accompanied by clear and immediate signs of respiratory distress, such as extreme coughing, labored breathing, and foaming at the mouth.

The key is this: If a child becomes submerged and must be rescued or removed from the pool by a guardian or lifeguard for any reason – he or she should be medically evaluated and monitored.

Not all children are continuously supervised while swimming, however, which leads to the concern that a significant water injury could have occurred outside of a parent’s purview. Still, in these cases, symptoms warranting immediate medical attention would ultimately develop in rapid succession over the course of six to twelve hours. They include:

  • Forceful and/or excessive coughing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disorientation

Parents harboring concerns of sleepy sons and daughters the day after a pool visit can rest assured that their children are worn out because they exerted themselves under a hot sun, and not because they’re experiencing dry drowning.

If there is no respiratory event, there is simply no respiratory event.

When it comes to swimming and water safety of all kinds, a well-supervised child is the best solution to allay parental fears.

  • Children should have adult supervision whenever they are in or near the water.
  • Toddlers and infants requiring water wings or floatation devices should have an adult within arms’ reach at all times.
  • Remember: Even the best swimmers can drown. Older children should be observed at all times in the pool.
  • All pools should be surrounded by a four-sided fence.
  • Parents should teach their children to stay clear of pool drains. The suction created by drains can trap a child underwater.
  • Enroll your children in swimming lessons. Professionals recommend lessons for children ages 4 and older.

For parents, the mere thought of their child drowning can conjure feelings of extreme helplessness and fear. It is important to remember, however, that drowning of any kind is always linked to distinct, visible symptoms. Know what to look for, and know where your children are, and you can continue to enjoy summer fun at the pool.

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