Lifesaving Information about Dry Drowning vs. Secondary Drowning

What is Dry Drowning?

Dry drowning is when a small amount of water is ingested, either from the nose or mouth. The water causes a spasm in the airway, causing the airway to close. Dry drowning typically occurs relatively shortly after exiting the water.

What is Secondary Drowning?

Water enters the lungs and causes either swelling or an internal fluid build up. The body is then unable to transfer oxygen to carbon dioxide, or vise versa. A child who experiences secondary drowning may not show any symptoms or signs of distress for up to 24 hours after swimming.

Warning Signs:

While Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning are different, they share many of the same warning signs, including the following:

  • Close Calls: If your child is swimming, and begins to drown, the child should seek medical attention even if he or she is seemingly fine.
  • Coughing: Excessive or persistent coughing could be a warning sign that something is wrong.
  • Strained Breathing: If a child is working harder to breathe then normal, seek medical help immediately.  You may notice nostril flaring, rapid shallow breathes, or pronounced ribs/collarbone when breathing. 
  • Fatigue/Forgetfulness/Behavior Changes: If your little one is suddenly very sleepy, forgetful, or their behavior is notably unusual, this may be an indication he or she is not getting enough oxygen in their blood.
  • Vomiting: This could be a sign of stress from the body.

If you notice any or all of these signs don’t hesitate to seek medical help. Either call your pediatrician, or if symptoms intensify, call 911. Treatment for dry/secondary drowning varies. As with “traditional” drowning, prevention is key in reducing injuries and accidents. To read more about swimming safety tips, and other drowning hazards, click here.