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Drowning on dry land
Like most parents, you probably figure that once your child is out of the water, the risk of drowning is over. Not necessarily true!
Ahead of the summer season and prospects of water fights and games of “Marco Polo”, lies a serious risk of drowning. While most parents are alert to the obvious signs of drowning, not everyone realizes that a child could drown even after he or she is pulled out of the water. “Dry drowning” or “secondary drowning” can occur – sometimes up to 48 to 72 hours – after exposure to water. Yes, your child can drown on dry land! Although very rare, making up just 1 to 2% of all drowning incidents, this phenomenon is a terrifying prospect which all parents should be aware of.

What is dry drowning?

Dry drowning happens after a person survives a near-drowning experience, is rescued from the water, but still drowns hours later from the water they inhaled. Water inhaled into the lungs can effectively irritate the lining of the lungs. It can cause inflammation and swelling that makes it difficult or impossible for the body to supply oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. With primary drowning, you inhale water, you can’t breathe and you die right away. But, with secondary drowning, there can be a delay of up to 72 hours before the person shows signs of distress.

Did you know that about six tablespoons of water inhaled into the lungs is enough to cause dry drowning in a child?

What are the signs of dry drowning?

Parents should be aware that anytime a child aspirates water – in the ocean, pool or bath – they are at risk of deterioration of lung function. Even if your child does not display any outward signs of instability after a near-drowning incident, they should be observed closely, for at least 24 hours, at hospital, as the development of symptoms can be insidious. Be on the lookout for the following signs:
  • Persistent coughing.
  • Rapid or shallow breathing, nostril flaring, or when they have to work harder to breathe than normal.
  • Sleepiness. Your child was just playing energetically in the pool, and now he’s fatigued? It could be the result of not enough oxygen getting into his blood. Don’t put him to bed until the doctor gives you the go-ahead.
  • Forgetfulness or change in behaviour. A dip in oxygen level could cause your child to feel sick or woozy.
  • Vomiting. This could be a sign of stress as a result of the inflammation or lack of oxygen, as well as from persistent coughing or gagging.
How to prevent dry drowning

If you can prevent the initial drowning experience, and the need to be rescued, you can avoid dry drowning altogether.
  • Always supervise small children near water – even water in buckets poses a risk. Because of the disproportionate weight of their heads, toddlers can easily topple over and find it difficult to lift their heads to breathe.
  • Never leave a child under four alone in the bath, even for a second. If you must leave the room, wrap the child in a towel and take him with you. Pull the plug when bath-time is over.
  • Ensure that the whole family knows how to swim. Young kids should always wear approved life-vests that fit snuggly. (inflatable wings and rings are not safe)
  • Fence off your pool and also use a pool net. Get a lockable cover for Jacuzzis. Remove the ladder from above- the- ground pools. Don’t leave toys in the pool as kids may be tempted to retrieve them.
  • At the beach, only swim in designated areas and with a lifeguard on duty. Teach your kids never to stand with their backs to the water.
Kids’ safety is an integral part of parenting. The key message is that if a child is rescued from water, there is still a small chance that they can drown on dry land. Keep little swimmers safe by preventing near-drowning experiences.

See more healthy living tips at the Fedhealthy blog.

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