What You Need to Know About Secondary Drowning

Summertime is full of sunshine, fun, and swimming pools. Although many parents and guardians take precautions when it comes to drowning, the danger does not always end there. Secondary drowning, or dry drowning, can happen out of the water and be extremely dangerous. This occurrence is exceptionally rare, amounting to only about 1%-2% of documented drowning. According to Dr. James Orlowski, MD, from Florida Hospital in Tampa, secondary drowning "happens when someone breathes in small amounts of water during a struggle; that triggers the muscles in their airway to spasm and makes breathing difficult."

Water is forced into the lungs and does not exist, causing complications. This could result in difficulty breathing and brain injury, and if it is untreated it can be fatal.

Signs you should look for after water was ingested during a struggle are:

  • Uncontrollable coughing after the incident, which could last many hours
  • Any difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sudden change in behavior
  • Paleness of the face
  • Chest Pains
  • Extreme fatigue

At times this can be difficult to identify, particularly with children. Time is extremely important with secondary drowning, so if you notice any of these symptoms head to the emergency room immediately. Teach swimmers to blow water from their mouths and keep their mouths closed while swimming and jumping into the water. If someone is knocked down from a wave and swallows the water, or swallows water and is coughing after jumping in, make sure to monitor them afterward. If a person continuously coughs uncontrollably after swallowing water for a prolonged time, seek medical attention.