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What Is Secondary Drowning?

Posted On 08/29/18

It’s August, which means that the summer swelter is in full swing in Arizona. Chances are, you and your family take any opportunity you can to cool off. For many local families, this means visiting community or backyard pools to swim and enjoy some lazy days before school starts again.

Each summer, we hear news stories warning about the dangers of secondary drowning. This mainly occurs in novice swimmers, like children. While you may have heard horror stories about dry drowning on your local news channel, you may not fully understand what the term means, or how you can prevent it. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Secondary Drowning?

Some people assume that dry drowning and secondary drowning are the same thing, but they’re different. Dry drowning involves a reflex that closes the vocal cords and prevents the lungs from taking in air, which can lead to difficulty breathing, and even death. It’s name, “dry drowning”, is derived from the fact no water enters the lungs.

Secondary drowning, on the other hand, occurs when a child aspirates water, which gets into the lungs. This causes swelling or inflammation of the lungs, called edema. This condition has a delayed onset and can occur hours or even days after a child swallows water. When a child dies from delayed or secondary drowning, it’s because the air sacs in the lungs cannot properly absorb oxygen and distribute it to the surrounding tissue.

What Are the Symptoms of Secondary Drowning?

Keep an eye on your child as he or she swims, and be on the lookout for any of these symptoms of edema, particularly after swallowing water:

  • A hacking cough that persists long after the initial episode of swallowing or inhaling water
  • Lethargy or uncharacteristic sleepiness
  • Choking or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Complaints of not feeling well

If you notice these symptoms in your child, go to the nearest emergency room for further testing and treatment. Secondary drowning represents a medical emergency, so don’t delay.

Secondary drowning is a scary concept, but it’s also a rare phenomenon; a child is more likely to die from submersion drowning. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in Arizona children under the age of 4, so it’s essential for parents to take basic, preventive actions.

Preventing Drowning For Children

The best way to approach secondary, or any other type of drowning, is through prevention. Though secondary drowning is rare, it’s best to be prepared for any possibility. Whenever your child visits a pool, lake, or other body of water:

  • Designate a child watcher. If you’re not physically present to monitor your child at all times, ask who will be keeping an eye on your children. This person should always be sober and should be someone you trust.
  • Enroll your children in swimming lessons so they will be strong swimmers, and less likely to inhale water.
  • Younger and novice swimmers should always wear a Coast Guard-approved floatation device.
  • Swim at pools, lakes, and water parks monitored by a professional lifeguard, if possible.
  • Talk to your children about the importance of water safety and encourage them to tell you if they swallowed water and are not feeling well.

Secondary drowning may be rare, but it can happen to even your most water-confident children. The best way to approach secondary drowning is by taking steps to prevent it in the first place. Be aware of the symptoms and exercise basic water safety tips to protect your family. If your child does show signs of secondary drowning, seek help from a hospital immediately.

If you have additional questions or believe you may have a case, our Phoenix pool injury lawyers can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with our injury attorneys.