Most people think drowning means drowning in water. That isn’t always the case.
While most people are fairly familiar with the “usual” kind of drowning – the kind that takes place in a pool or other large body of water – many have not heard about or experienced what is referred to as “dry drowning.” Dry drowning usually happens with children, and all it takes is for a small amount of water to be inhaled during bath time, by the pool or at a beach.
Be on the alert for the signs of dry drowning, which include trouble breathing, tiredness verging on lethargy and behavior changes. This indicates that there is a reduced flow of oxygen to the brain. Take the case of the young boy who had been swimming in a neighbor’s pool and went home with his mom after playtime. Although he had been swimming and seemed to be just fine, he had inhaled a small amount of water into his lungs. He was still able to talk and even walk home with his mom. Once he got home, his mother gave him a bath and put him to bed for a nap. He never woke up.
While he was in the pool, the 10-year-old had an accident; something he would not normally do. And later, after his bath, he was incredibly sleepy. These are two of the signs of dry drowning, but because his mom was not familiar with this, she thought something else was going on.
This is a tough case and one that drove home an incredibly hard life lesson. If you have children and they love swimming, watch them like hawks and make sure they don’t inhale water. Learn to differentiate the various kinds of breathing a kid experiences: allergy nasal wheezing, asthma tight chest breathing, or difficulty breathing because of too much chlorine. Of course, you would also want to recognize the differences in your child being too tired after a long day in the hot sun or of playing for hours on end. Yes, it’s hard to keep track of everything that might go wrong with a little one, but as a parent, you will instinctively know when something isn’t right.
Even though asphyxiation is common in drowning, inhaling large amounts of water into the lungs may or may not occur. About 15 percent of all drowning deaths fall into the category of dry drowning. This is largely due to the victim holding his or her breath or the involuntary reflex spasm of the larynx that shuts off the airway in the throat.
If the victim did inhale water, the amount inhaled doesn’t have to be very much for problems to occur. Medically speaking, the lungs fill with water because body fluids build up; a secondary complication of being deprived of air. Usually, large quantities of water are also swallowed and brought back up spontaneously or when the victim is being given CPR. Vomiting after the larynx shuts down may also cause aspiration of the stomach contents.
It’s a tough call to make: do you go to the ER or not? When in doubt and if you suspect dry drowning, go to the ER. Insist they keep your child under close supervision before going home. Your precautions could well save a life – the life of your child.