It’s the beginning of summer and, therefore, the beginning of pool days and beach trips. If there was ever a time for water safety, it is now. Parents are well acquainted with the risks of drowning, and operate on high alert for the summer. However, many parents are unaware of something called secondary drowning, or dry drowning, which can go undetected.
“Secondary drowning happens when a child swallows water while swimming and the water ends up in the lungs,” says Samantha Guidry, co-owner of Geaux Safety and Aquatics. The water causes inflammation and, in turn, difficulty breathing. It can happen to adults, but it is much more common in children due to their size.
Symptoms of secondary drowning can appear any time from when the child leaves the water until 24 hours later, Guidry says. These symptoms include coughing excessively, difficulty breathing, fatigue, forgetfulness, and sometimes vomiting. “Secondary drowning can occur in adults, but the symptoms are easier to recognize,” shares Guidry. “With children, it is harder to see the symptoms and for the child to know something is wrong.”
Usually symptoms will go away on their own, but it is always best to get medical attention. “When there is a near drowning, you don’t know how long they were under water or how much water they consumed,” says Jonathan Lee, Association Aquatics Director at YMCA of the Capital Area. “Even if the child appears to be fine, have medics come and do an assessment just to make sure. Louisiana had an average of 85 drowning deaths per year between 2011 and 2015, so it’s something that is very important.”
Both Guidry and Lee suggest swimming lessons as one of the best preventative measures. “Swim lessons, beginning around age three or four, are a huge method of prevention of secondary drowning, as one of the things they are taught is not to try to breathe under water,” says Guidry.
Of course, another great way to avoid secondary drowning is by teaching your children water safety, keeping a close eye on them while in a pool or at the beach, and swimming with them. “When there is a set of eyes on the child, it is less likely he will go underwater for longer periods of time. Also, keeping children away from unsupervised water areas is key to preventing any water injury or illness that may occur,” Guidry explains.
Lee encourages parents to be aggressive when it comes to water safety. “Check the facility before anyone begins swimming to make sure it is properly equipped and meets safety standards,” says Lee. “Also have your own safety devices, such as flotation devices that are Coast Guard approved.” Lee also says children should have a swim test annually to ensure they are still prepared to get in the water. On top of that, parents should teach their children to always ask permission before entering any body of water. It creates a habit and allows the parent to know where their child is. ■