Most parents believe their children are safe from drowning once they leave the water. In reality, however, they still face the risk of “secondary” drowning, which can occur hours after they’ve toweled off. To keep your child safe, learn how to identify telltale symptoms of this potentially fatal condition.
What Is it?
Secondary drowning occurs when the body reacts to small amounts of water within the lungs. As the body’s airways open up, fluid accumulates in the lungs, causing pulmonary edema. This results in breathing difficulties that can cause potentially fatal oxygen deprivation.
What Causes it?
Although secondary drowning can occur in adults, it is far more common in children, thanks in part to their small sizes. Likewise, because they are more prone to splashing, dunking and roughhousing in the pool, kids at a much greater risk of having water enter the lungs.
Identifying the Symptoms
Secondary drowning symptoms usually develop within 1 to 24 hours after swimming. They include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Extreme fatigue
You can reduce the risk of secondary drowning by using the same safety strategies used to prevent traditional drowning. These include:
- Never let your child swim alone
- Monitor your child closely while in the pool
- Discourage aggressive play
Secondary drowning is a relatively rare occurrence. In fact, it only makes up about 1 to 2 percent of all drowning incidents. That said, you should still seek medical help if your child exhibits any potential symptoms hours after swimming.
Most of the time, symptoms clear up on their own; however, in some cases, emergency supportive care is required. Usually, physicians begin by taking an x-ray. If there is fluid present in the lungs, the child will be kept for observation to guard against progressive breathing difficulties.