Mother and child by swimming pool

Dry & Secondary Drowning: What Parents Need to Know


Many parents believe their children aren’t at risk for drowning once they get out of the water. However, incidents of dry and secondary drowning have happened and usually occur in young children. Know the facts to keep your kids safe in and out of the water.

What is dry and secondary drowning?

While dry and secondary drowning are similar, each occurs differently. In cases of dry drowning, the swimmer takes in water, and shortly after, it causes a spasm and closure in the airway. On the other hand, secondary drowning can happen days after the near-drowning incident. After a swimmer inhales water, liquid continues to build up in the lungs over time, causing breathing difficulties. Even if your child inhales just a little water, it can result in dry and secondary drowning, which can lead to brain injury, respiratory problems, or death.

What are the symptoms?

Dry drowning symptoms occur right after the incident while secondary drowning symptoms can develop hours or days later. Even if you didn’t see your child choke on water, watch for these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting

What should I do?

If your child experiences a near-drowning incident, take him or her to an emergency room for observation. It’s better to be overly cautious and seek medical care before the condition potentially worsens. An emergency medical provider can give your child a proper examination.

If your child displays any of the symptoms mentioned above, call 911 immediately.

Follow these tips to prevent dry and secondary drowning:

  • Always monitor your child when in or around water.
  • Only swim in areas with lifeguards on duty.
  • Never let your child swim alone.
  • Consider signing your child up for swimming lessons to help them feel comfortable and confident in the water.

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