If you have never heard of dry drowning before, you’re not alone. Many parents have no idea what dry drowning is even if they’ve read up on swimming safety. In this blog, we’ll cover what dry drowning is, the symptoms in children, treatment, and prevention.

What Is Dry Drowning?

Dry drowning, also known as secondary drowning or submersion injury, can occur when a child takes a small about of water into their airway through the nose or mouth. The inhaled water can cause a spasm in the airway or inflammation in the lungs making it difficult to breathe. Dry drowning can cause death if not treated quickly.

Dry Drowning Symptoms in Children

Dry drowning is extremely rare, but it is a good idea to monitor your child closely for 24 hours if you believe they may have taken water into their airway while swimming.

Dry Drowning Symptoms to Watch For:

  • difficulty breathing or speaking
  • abnormal behavior
  • coughing
  • chest pain
  • low energy or sleepiness after a water incident

It is especially important to monitor symptoms of dry drowning in toddlers who may not be able to express their discomfort with words.

Dry Drowning Treatment

If your child is having difficulty breathing, call 911 right away. If they are displaying other symptoms and you aren’t sure they need to be seen, don’t hesitate to call your child’s pediatrician. We’ll talk you through the symptoms and help you make the decision.

If your child is experiencing dry drowning, the doctor will check your child’s vital signs and breathing. The physician might recommend supplemental oxygen or do a chest x-ray.

If your child is unable to breathe on his own, he will be intubated and placed on a ventilator to help him breathe until he is able to breathe on his own.

How to Prevent Dry Drowning

Preventing dry drowning isn’t possible unless you plan to keep your child from all bodies of water (including the bathtub), but there are safety precautions you can take to reduce the potential for submersion injuries.

Supervision – Young children should always be supervised when swimming or in the bath.

Swimming Lessons – Strong swimmers are significantly less likely to suffer submersion injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting instruction at 12 months.

Safety gear – Properly fitted floatation devices can help prevent submersion injuries but are not a replacement for adult supervision.

For more summer safety tips, visit our health education blog for parents.