Recognizing the Common and Uncommon Forms of Drowning

Recognizing the Common and Uncommon Forms of DrowningAs summer is upon us, and the weather gets hotter, pool season approaches. When we think of pool safety, the first thing we think of is the risk of drowning and the need to supervise our young ones and watch over them closely when they are in a pool so that we can react if there is a problem. While you may think that you could recognize the symptoms and signs of someone who is drowning, some attention is being given to different forms of drowning, which you may not have even heard of, and which may be difficult to recognize.

Dry Drowning

This may sound bizarre, but someone can drown days after they have gotten out of the pool. This is what is known as “dry drowning.” Dry drowning is where, when submerged, water goes through the nose or mouth. In response, the vocal cords spasm and close off. No water actually gets into the lungs during the event, although because of the spasm, it may be difficult to breathe, and may feel and sound like actual drowning or at least, similar to choking.

The person may then recover, and seem fine. They may continue to swim and run about. But in reaction to the event, the body sends fluid to the lungs. That excess fluid can be deadly. You have probably heard of pulmonary edema—that is exactly what occurs in dry drowning.

Symptoms usually start about an hour after the event occurs, but the consequences may not show themselves for a week or more. A young boy in Texas recently died just this way. After exiting a pool, he experienced diarrhea and vomiting. Nearly a week later, the boy complained of shoulder pain, took a nap, and never woke up. The death was attributed to dry drowning.

Secondary Drowning

Similar to dry drowning is what is known as secondary drowning. Unlike dry drowning, with secondary drowning, water does actually get into the lungs. The person seems to be breathing fine after leaving the water, but in fact, water has gotten into the lungs and washed out a substance that is intended to keep the lungs inner workings from sticking together, like a lubricant.

In response to the absence of that natural lubricant, the body sends excess fluid to the lungs, and, as in dry drowning, pulmonary edema can result. Also like dry drowning, secondary drowning symptoms can manifest in 24 hours.

Both of these conditions often occur when kids suffer “near drowning” events, where the child may not seem to have actually come close to drowning, but may be coughing, ingested water, or come very close to being trapped under water.

Parents Should Look for Symptoms

Experts say that you do not need to rush your child to the emergency room every time he or she ingests water after swimming. However, parents should watch for any respiratory symptoms that show up after a child has been in water. If breathing is labored, and it seems like the child is working to have to breathe properly, it should be treated seriously, and medical attention should be sought right away.

Both of these conditions highlight the need for parents to monitor children while they are in the pool. We are used to being attuned to kids splashing frantically or sinking to the bottom of the water as drowning signs, and of course, they are (although it should be noted that in most cases, drowning can be a silent event; parents need to observe with their eyes and not rely upon hearing splashing).

Other, less subtle events can lead to serious medical problems. Many of us may overlook or miss kids who come up from the water coughing, or who are walking around and seemingly fine, but who may have swallowed excess amounts of water.

Many of us may believe that hours after being in the pool, if the child is walking around, he or she is doing fine. A cough that occurs hours later may be attributed to other things, without connecting it to the time in the pool, and certainly without considering that edema may have set into the lungs.

Traditional Drowning is Still a Huge Danger

Drowning of any kind is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. Sadly, one in five people who die from drowning are children, many of whom could be saved with proper supervision. Many children die even with supervision because those supervising are not trained to recognize the signs of drowning.

For example, children who are drowning will not be screaming, but rather, they may be gasping, or completely silent. They may tilt their head back instinctively in an effort to clear their airway. If they are still in the water, their arms may not be splashing, but may be under the water, attempting to push their body upwards to keep them afloat.

Remember that knowing how to swim does not guarantee pool safety. Sometimes, exhaustion can cause drowning. Kids who seem physically tired should be taken out of the pool. Look for kids that are hanging off the sides of the pool, or clinging to floatation devices. In some cases, a child may look like he or she is swimming and moving about, but the child is going nowhere. This can be an indication that the child is tired, and unable to muster the strength to stay afloat, even of the child is otherwise a strong swimmer.

Be safe this summer. If you or a family member is injured while engaging in a summer activity, you may have questions about liability. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case and your injuries.