Dry drowning is a term for the ingestion of water sufficient to trigger the airways to close even though the victim is not immersed in a body of water. A child who displays signs of respiratory distress and fatigue, or is choking, coughing or vomiting after swimming, may have had water enter their lungs.
“It’s very rare,” says Darshan Patel, MD, Chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network. “It is like a suffocation, dramatic and quick – happening in the pool or poolside, or from falling into very cold water.”
Some believe that dry drowning occurs hours or even a day after swimming, with children dying in their sleep, but Dr. Patel says that is actually called “secondary drowning,” adding that what ultimately matters most is the vigilant, consistent practice of water safety. “Anytime a child has his or her head submerged, with a risk of swallowing water, there is the potential for a drowning event, whether it’s in the tub, pool or ocean.”
The takeaway: If you notice your child violently coughing or sputtering, suddenly unable to breathe, call 911 and begin CPR immediately.