Understanding the dangers of “Dry” and “Delayed” Drowning

Most of us understand the dangers of drowning. We make sure that our children are watched when they are swimming, make sure they learn to swim, protect infants from accidentally falling into pools and buckets of water, etc… What many of us don’t know is that there are two other forms of drowning that you need to protect against, namely “Delayed drowning” and “Dry drowning”.

The tragic death of a 10-year old boy in Goose Creek, South Carolina brought this into focus back in 2008. Unfortunately, the boys’ death was mistakenly called “dry drowning” instead of what it actually was, “delayed drowning”.

What is “delayed drowning”?

Delayed drowning occurs when water gets into the lungs. Even though the victim may appear fine for a while, the water in the lungs impedes lung function and essentially “drowns” the victim, usually within a couple of hours.

What is “dry drowning”?

Dry drowning, in contrast, occurs without the presence of water in the lungs. It is somewhat unclear how dry drowning occurs but it occurs in water, not hours later, as in the case of “delayed drowning”. It is believed that dry drowning can occur in one of two ways:

1. The shock of the cold water may cause the heart to stop. In this instance, the victim never inhales water into the lungs; he or she stops breathing because death has occurred so no water enters the lungs.
2. A sudden rush of water into the throat causes the air ways to shut to keep the water out of the lungs. Because the air way is shut, however, air can’t get in either and the victim asphyxiates.

However dry drowning occurs, it occurs in much the same situation as regular drowning so that many cases of dry drowning look like regular drowning.

Delayed drowning, however, is very different and not nearly as common. Another instance of delayed drowning in 2012 has media calling it “extremely rare”. Death, in these cases can happen anytime after inhaling the water for up to 48 hours. It is therefore extremely important to know what to look for and pay close attention to signs that may point to a problem.

Symptoms of potential delayed drowning:

1. Sudden weariness or tiredness.

2. disorientation or confusion

3. Unusual behavior

4. Coughing and/or difficulty breathing

5. Heaviness in the chest

The first 3 of these symptoms come from oxygen deprivation. Because the brain isn’t being supplied with the necessary oxygen, it gets tired, drowsy, confused, erratic or disorientated. The fourth and fifth symptoms are just a physical reaction to having water in the lungs.

The purpose of this post isn’t to have parents panic every time that a child coughs when he or she is in the pool. It’s pretty hard to spend a day at the beach or the pool without at least one episode of coughing. The important thing to remember is that the coughing is the child’s protective system doing what it is supposed to do; the lungs are expelling anything that isn’t supposed to be there and it works well.

If, however, the coughing is more severe and won’t stop or if there was a near drowning episode, it is advisable to take your child (or the adult) to the hospital to have him or her checked out properly. Make sure the attending physician understands the concern you may have concerning delayed drowning and have the person in question properly checked out. If there is water in the lungs they will be able to take care of the problem.

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