What Is Dry Drowning?

young boy drowning while trying to swim
August 13, 2017
Legally Reviewed By Attorney Rand Spear, Esq.

All parents worry about their children’s safety, especially around water. Whether your child is swimming in a public pool, lake, or right in your own backyard, you want to make sure they’re safe at all times. Many parents send their kids to swimming lessons to ensure they know how to handle themselves in the water.

However, a specific type of drowning can occur even if a child doesn’t suck water into his or her lungs. Known as “dry drowning,” it is a rare but terrifying condition that has been known to cause death in young children.

Dry Drowning vs. Secondary Drowning

According to WebMD, dry drowning is not actually a medical term. However, the phrase is colloquially used to describe a condition in which water does not enter a child’s lungs. Instead, the child breathes in water that causes the child’s vocal cords to spasm and close off the airway. As WebMD states, “You would start to notice those signs right away — it wouldn’t happen out of the blue days later.”

Sometimes dry drowning is confused with another type of drowning called “secondary drowning.” With secondary drowning, water actually does make it to the lungs, where it irritates the lungs’ lining. In serious cases, this irritation can lead to a buildup of fluid in the lungs, causing pulmonary edema and even death. In some cases, children have died a day or two later after swimming.

What Parents Need to Know About Dry Drowning

According to Dr. Mark R. Zonfrillo of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, dry drowning and secondary drowning are both extremely rare, accounting for just 1 to 2 percent of drowning accidents.

Both dry drowning and secondary drowning also have several warning signs. Parents should look for:

  • Coughing – If a child leaves the pool coughing or struggling to take in air, and this persists over time, parents should see a doctor right away.
  • Struggling to Breathe – Children who are having difficulty breathing or who seem like they’re working hard to breathe need to be treated immediately.
  • Fatigue – Most kids are pretty tuckered out after a long day of swimming, but doctors say parents should keep an eye out for excessive tiredness.
  • Vomiting – Any child who starts throwing up after leaving the water should be seen as soon as possible by a doctor.
  • Wooziness or Forgetfulness – Doctors also caution parents to watch for changes in personality. If children start acting woozy or incoherent, get them to an emergency room right away.

Doctors also say that any child who has been pulled from the water in a rescue situation — such as a child who started to drown and was assisted from the water — should be evaluated by a physician.

Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer Discusses Water Safety

Philadelphia personal injury lawyer Rand Spear explains, “Conditions like dry drowning and secondary drowning are scary for parents. However, being informed can go a long way toward keeping kids safe around water. Any time a parent has concerns about their child, it’s always best to contact the child’s pediatrician.”

Contact a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you or your child has been injured at a pool, lake, or swimming facility, get the legal help you deserve. Contact Philadelphia and New Jersey personal injury lawyer Rand Spear today at 877-GET-RAND.