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Death by 'Dry Drowning'

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Not all drowning deaths happen immediately, health officials say.


A 10-year-old boy died last weekend several hours after swallowing water in a swimming pool, reports FOX News. Police say he later complained he was tired and took a nap. When someone checked on him, water was coming out of his nose and he was having trouble breathing. The boy later died at the hospital.

The boy, known as "Jon Jon," was autistic and suffered from attention deficit and a social phobia, his mother said. But that had nothing to do with his death. Doctors say the cause of death was "dry" or "secondary drowning." Water, when inhaled, can damage the inside surface of the lung, collapse the alveoli and cause edema in the lungs with a reduced ability to exchange air. This may cause death up to 72 hours after a near-drowning incident. Momlogic talked to pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson to find out exactly what this is, and how moms can protect their kids.

"Remember, drownings are uncommon [3,582 per year] and secondary drownings only account for a tiny fraction of all drownings, so this is rare," Dr. Natterson explains. "Pool safety is supposed to be about being in the water, so the idea of secondary drowning is terrifying because it is even more beyond a parent's control. In order for a child to have a secondary drowning episode, he must get water into his lungs. This means that he will cough or choke a little or do something to indicate that the fluid has gone down the wrong way. If you are watching your child closely and none of these things has happened, you can feel fairly reassured that there is no risk of secondary drowning. On the other hand, if you do see some of these behaviors, and certainly if your child complains of difficulty breathing after swimming, it is much better to be safe than sorry."

The general warning signs for secondary drownings include:
• coughing
• trouble breathing
• pain in the lungs or chest especially when taking a deep breath
• a feeling of swallowing or inhaling water

If your child is experiencing warning signs, "take that child to see a doctor right away," advises Dr. Natterson.

next: Gifts for the Sporty Daddy
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
VIVIANE RAMOS June 5, 2008, 4:52 PM


Liza June 5, 2008, 9:43 PM

My 4 year old sons will be starting swim lessons, should I be concerned?

bayleesmom June 5, 2008, 10:34 PM

I’m one of those crazy moms….I throw my babies in the air, blow in their face and dunk them under water, not to be mean. I was a lifeguard and I saw dozens of parents do it….never once did these “crazy” parent’s kids have complications of dry drowning. My two year old went swimming this weekend and swallowed a little water trying to blow bubbles. She is fine. Think about when you were a kid. How many times did you choke on water? That 10 year old also soiled himself in the pool, and it was his 1st time swimming. I think getting your 4 year old into lesson so he learns how to breathe underwater is prevention enough. I’m still going out tomorrow to buy a pool, but I may cut the throwing in the air dunking method to a minimum. Have a fun summer people….now we know

Joey June 9, 2008, 7:30 PM

I appreciate this information as well as parents like everyone on this web site who help me learn of even better ways to care for my own children.

Casey July 14, 2008, 4:38 PM

my 18 month old overturned himself in a pool yesterday while being inside a round innertube for babies. I saw him right away and pulled him from the water feet first (upside down ) because this was the easeist way to retrieve him. He did inhale some water and it scared me very badly. It took him a few seconds to get his breath, then he starting crying. He never really coughed or choked though. It has only been 24 hours and I am still freaked out about it. Should I be yet????

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