Measles Information

Waves crashing on a beach on a sunny day.
Waves crashing on a beach on a sunny day.

What Is Dry Drowning?

How to Keep Your Little One Safe Near the Water

You’ve kept a watchful eye on your little one while they were swimming and did everything to keep them safe by the water. The coast is clear, right? Not exactly.

You may have heard terms like “dry drowning” and “secondary drowning,” which sound scary. Rest assured, both of these occurrences are extremely rare and unlikely to occur. The important thing is they act as a reminder to exercise water safety at all times.

Northwestern Medicine Pediatric Critical Care Physician Mohammad I. Akhtar, MD, shares what you need to know about these types of drowning.

What has been coined as dry drowning can occur when water enters the mouth or nose and causes a spasm in the airway. The spasm traps the water and closes up the airway.

Signs of dry drowning:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing

Secondary or delayed drowning happens when water gets trapped in the lungs, causing an inflammatory response. This inflammatory response can lead the lungs to slowly fill up with a fluid, a condition called pulmonary edema, which can cause your child to have shortness of breath, irregular breathing or suddenly become extremely tired. While coughing does not necessarily warrant an emergency department visit, be vigilant if signs persist and go to a Pediatric Emergency Department.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children, but can be prevented by taking proper precautions. Here are some things parents can do to increase safety by the water:

  • Always supervise your children near or in water.
  • Enroll children in swimming lessons.
  • Use life jackets.
  • Place barriers with locked gates around pools.
  • Swim in areas with lifeguards.
  • Learn to perform CPR.

Learn more summer safety tips for parents and guardians.