JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Parents across the country are asking questions about “dry drowning” following the death of a 4-year-old Texas boy.
The boy died almost a week after swimming on a family vacation.
Dr. Steven Pattishall, a pediatric hospitalist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, said dry drowning typically happens hours after a child has a near-drowning experience.
Pattishall said it occurs when water gets into the lungs and affects the lungs directly, causing an inability for oxygen to get where it needs to go.
Pattishall said it can also happen when water triggers the vocal chords to spasm and close.
“The initial water is usually long gone, it’s been coughed out,” Pattishall said. “And it’s just either injury to the lining of the lungs itself or it might just be persistent spasming of the vocal chords that can sometimes persist for a while longer.”
However, Pattishall said swallowing water does not cause dry drowning. “As far as I’m aware, that is not true,” Pattishall said.
Symptoms of dry drowning are typically related to breathing. “Children that are breathing faster, working harder to breathe, or having other signs that there might be trouble such as feeling very tired, vomiting or just really not acting themselves in some other sort of way,” Pattishall said.
The best treatment, Pattishall said, is prevention. The YMCA of Florida’s First Coast offers swimming lessons for children as young as 6 months old.
“So that the children aren’t left to spend any amount of time under water,” said Alexandra Cramer, the aquatics resource manager for the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. Cramer said it’s a critical skill, especially in Florida where water is everywhere.
“Not just the beaches,” she said. “It is the pools, the bathtubs, the drainage ponds.” Even if your kids can swim, Cramer urged parents to pay attention because drownings, or near-drownings that could lead to complications happen in just seconds.
“Now we get so sidetracked with our phones and things like that that the parents feel ‘well I’m at the pool with my child so they are supervised’ but we’re really not paying attention,” she said.
Click here for more information on swimming lessons with the YMCA or more information about its drowning prevention program.
For information on Wolfson’s water safety program, click here.