In the dog days of summer, many hours will be spent with friends and family around your backyard pool. While much of pool safety may seem obvious – supervise children, enforce a no running rule, be proficient in CPR – children can be in danger even after they leave the pool. In fact, children can drown hours after they have finished swimming.
Secondary drowning, or dry drowning, happens when a swimmer inhales water, whether in a near-drowning incident or in a less scary situation, like when jumping into the pool or exiting a water slide. The swimmer may appear fine initially, but over time the water in the lungs causes swelling. This causes the blood oxygen level to drop and the heart to slow. If this is caught early, doctors will administer oxygen and remove the fluid from the lungs. If the symptoms go untreated, they will progress to pulmonary edema, respiratory and cardiac arrest, and ultimately death.
Inhaling pool water, which contains harmful chemicals, can also result in chemical pneumonitis, another inflammatory lung condition with similar symptoms.
The best way to avoid secondary drowning is to keep a close eye out for the symptoms, which can appear one to 24 hours after a swimmer inhales water. Early symptoms include chest pain, fever, lethargy, persistent coughing and shortness of breath. These symptoms are not always easy to spot – especially in young children who are tired after a long day in the sun.
It’s important to note that secondary drownings are rare but most people don’t even think about their risk until it’s too late. According to studies published by WebMD, secondary drowning accounts for only one to two percent of all drownings. If your child inhaled water while playing in the pool but is not displaying extreme fatigue or trouble breathing, they are likely fine. Should your child begin to show any of the symptoms, however, take them to an emergency room right away.
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