Water safety an important topic

by Kellie Bishop

The summer heat is just around the corner! Living in one of the most hot and humid states leaves most of us searching for water to get relief from the heat during the summer months. One of the most common questions I get from parents in clinic during the spring and summer is “What is dry drowning?” and “What are the signs I need to look for?” 

Drowning is an important topic to discuss and understand heading into the summer months, so let’s talk a little about what it is and how it can be prevented.

Drowning is a serious issue and one of the leading causes of unintentional death in children. It occurs when you cannot get oxygen into your lungs because you are in or under water. 

Typically, one of two things occur in a drowning incident. When the body cannot get oxygen, it will become agitated, panicked and desperate for air. This can lead to the individual taking a breath while under water, leading to fluid in the lungs. This is the typical course of drowning that most are accustomed to. 

The second type of drowning occurs when the voice box becomes very agitated and closes off, also known as a laryngospasm. This is a reflex to keep fluid from getting in the lungs and can happen if the individual is forced to hold his or her breath to the point of losing consciousness. These are the two ways that drowning occurs, so swallowing water is not drowning.

The term dry drowning has become more popular over the last few years, especially on social media, and there is some misconception about what this actually means. Medically speaking, dry drowning is not a true diagnosis or condition. 

When an individual, usually a child, takes too much water into his or her mouth and begins coughing and spitting out water, it is because too much water got into his or her stomach. When this happens, it is possible for some of the water to get into the lungs, as well, which leads to the cough. This small amount of water in the lungs typically clears on its own with coughing. If the symptoms linger, however, and the person seems to be having difficulty breathing, they should receive medical attention as soon as possible. If they do not receive medical attention promptly, they can worsen over time. 

Drowning is very real and can happen to anyone; however, it is a result of a lack of oxygen due to the individual being in or under water. Therefore, “dry drowning” as it is typically discussed, is not a true condition. 

The best prevention for any type of drowning incident is to follow safe water play recommendations and know the signs and symptoms to watch for if someone does inhale water. Make sure children are always using approved and appropriate flotation devices, and make sure they are never in or around water unsupervised. If you witness someone inhale water and they are coughing, ensure they are not struggling to breathe or in respiratory distress. If the coughing lingers or they appear to be having trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

Water play can be fun and is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to cool off in the summer heat. Being aware of drowning, what it is, how to identify it and how to prevent it, will help keep your summer water days enjoyable. Happy summer!

Kellie Bishop
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