You may have heard about it on the news: A child is saved from drowning, but she passes away later that day – even though she seemed fine after getting out of the water.
It’s called dry drowning, or aspiration pneumonia, and it is something that every parent or caregiver needs to know about. Just because someone is out of the water doesn’t mean they are out of danger.
What Is Dry Drowning?
While it is rare, dry drowning – also called secondary drowning or post-immersion syndrome – is a serious medical condition that can occur from swimming. When someone takes water into their lungs, either from losing consciousness while swimming or from inhaling water in a state of panic, the body’s protective instincts can take effect.
One of the ways a person can experience dry drowning is when their vocal cords close while having spasms from inhaling water, and the lungs expand with fluid as the body attempts to re-open the vocal cords. Another way is when the inhaled water dilutes the protective slippery surface material around the lungs, and the lung sacs begin to stick together and stop functioning properly.
After a few hours, while all danger seems to be avoided, the lungs can fill with fluid. If the inhaled water contains chemicals or bacteria, that can cause an inflammatory reaction.
The Signs of Dry Drowning
Dry drowning can be a scary concept to grasp, but there are signs to look out for that can save your life or someone else’s. If you or a loved one has had a near-drowning experience or has panicked and swallowed water while trying to breathe, be aware and be diligent.
Signs of dry drowning include:
- Difficulty breathing. Because dry drowning causes your lungs to feel stiff and makes it difficult to breathe, respiratory distress is the first sign.
- Physical signs. Trouble breathing can have physical signs such as the area between the ribs sticking out and the belly moving in and out forcefully. Nostrils may be flaring in and out to draw in as much air as possible.
- Irritable behaviors. Be aware if the person is acting strange or behaving erratically.
- Lethargy and sleepiness. Victims of dry drowning may have low energy or want to “sleep it off.”
- Constant coughing and fatigue. Persistent coughing, vomiting, and extreme fatigue can also be warning signs that it’s time to seek medical attention.
What Should I Do if I Suspect Dry Drowning?
If you believe someone could be suffering from dry drowning, be sure to get to an urgent care or emergency room right away. If you don’t see any symptoms a day or more after the near-drowning incident, there’s likely no reason to worry.
It’s important to note that swallowing water is not the same as aspirating water, which means breathing water into your lungs. And, while accidentally gulping a mouthful of pond or pool water can be an unpleasant experience, it won’t cause dry drowning unless you were also inhaling while gulping.
Still, if you or your loved one has had a near-drowning experience, see a medical professional immediately if you experience any of the above symptoms.
Concierge Physicians in Rockville
If you are experiencing chronic or acute health issues, be sure to speak with a doctor. If you would like personalized medical care, the physicians at Rockville Concierge Doctors are here to serve you and take care of you.
Our caring, dedicated team provides personalized, patient-centered care for acute and chronic conditions, as well as preventive care for individuals throughout their lives – from young adulthood to middle age to their senior years.
To learn more about the benefits of concierge medicine and what we have to offer, schedule a complimentary consultation today. Call (301) 545-1811 or fill out our consultation request form to schedule a meet-and-greet with one of our skilled physicians. We look forward to meeting you and helping you live a long, healthy life.