Drowning is a danger any time of the year and wherever water is present and can occur year-round. Young children are at the greatest risk of drowning.
While many people are familiar with the risk factors that lead to drowning, many have never heard of secondary drowning, a related condition that can occur hours after leaving the water.
According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death across the globe, accounting for almost 400,000 deaths annually. When a person drowns, he or she takes water into their larynx and lungs, which is known as aspiration. Lack of oxygen in the body causes bodily systems to shut down, and cardiac arrest and brain damage can result.
Secondary drowning, also known as dry drowning or delayed drowning, is a post-immersion respiratory syndrome. It occurs when water or another fluid has entered the lungs but has not caused enough initial trauma to result in fatal drowning. However, water that has gotten inside the lungs may cause damage to the inside surface of the organ, collapse alveoli and cause a hardening of the lungs that reduces the ability to exchange air. Over time, the lungs will suffocate themselves, which is why dry drowning can occur hours after exiting the water.
The following are potential indicators of secondary drowning. Prompt action should be taken if any of these signs are noticed after an adult or child leaves the water.
Persistent cough: Anyone who has swallowed water will cough and sputter as the body attempts to naturally expel the water. But persistent coughing that lasts long after the water has been breathed in may be indicative of water aspiration in the lungs.
Confusion: Difficulty understanding verbal instructions or not being able to form words or thoughts may be a symptom of dry drowning.
Pain: Chest pain is a strong indicator of water aspiration.
Trouble breathing: Difficulty breathing long after a person has been swimming may indicate secondary drowning.
Lethargy: Extreme tiredness or a sudden lack of energy may be indicative of a problem.
Monitor for the symptoms of dry drowning anytime a person swallows water. Keep the person nearby and do not allow him or her to go to sleep, as some children have died from secondary drowning in their sleep.
If you notice any symptoms of dry drowning, take the person exhibiting those symptoms to the hospital, as this is not something that can be treated at home.