What is Dry Drowning?


As a parent we are particularly cautious with our children in and around water such as lakes or swimming pools.  Our concern is to make sure they are safe, having a fun experience, but more importantly that they don’t drown.  Once they are out of the water our concerns wane, but this could be a false sense of security, a dry drowning can occur several hours after having been in the water.

Dry Drowning is essentially drowning, but without the body of water as the immediate cause. This can happen anywhere from one to 24 hours after having spent time in a pool or other water source.  When a person aspirates a small amount of water into their lungs, it may get absorbed into the bloodstream causing an imbalance of electrolytes, diluting the blood and causing an abnormal heart rhythm, or it may block the normal absorption of oxygen into the blood stream causing either cardiac arrest or possible brain damage.  Or it can also produce a condition called pulmonary edema, making breathing much more difficult.

Approximately 4,000 people die each year from drowning, of these about 10% to 15% can be classified as dry drowning. This is a significant number especially since high percentages are children.

In most cases of dry drowning, a person’s behavior may seem to be quite normal after they have been in the water. But there are a few signs to look for to help identify if there is a potential problem:

• A consistent cough that continues for a half hour or more.
• Shortness of breath.
• Pain in the chest.
• Lethargy.
• A dramatic change in their normal behavior, such as becoming combative or cranky.

These signs, if present should prompt you to seek immediate medical attention. Victims of dry drowning have the best chance of survival by being treated at a medical facility. If the victim loses consciousness and stops breathing, immediately call 9-1-1 and begin CPR by compressing the chest 30 times in a row, then deliver 2 rescue ventilation.

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