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Why Floridians Should Know About 'Dry' and 'Secondary' Drowning

As another summer gets underway, Florida residents will no doubt hear important warnings about how to protect children from drowning, both in pools and in the ocean. However, there are other types of drowning that most people have never heard of, despite the fact that they can be fatal. They are called "dry drowning" and "secondary drowning." Children are more susceptible than adults because of their size.

Dry drowning occurs when a child breathes in water. This closes the airways and vocal cords. It generally happens soon after the child experiences a problem in the water. Sometimes, just getting dunked or getting water in the mouth can cause dry drowning. It can even happen in bathtubs, toilets (presumably via "swirlies") and small plastic backyard pools.

With secondary drowning, water goes into the lungs. It builds up and interferes with the ability to breathe. Unlike dry drowning, the symptoms of secondary drowning can start as long as 24 hours after the child takes in water. Many fans of the Showtime series "The Affair" were introduced to secondary drowning when it was revealed that it killed the son of a main character.

Even though they happen differently, the symptoms of secondary drowning and dry drowning are essentially the same. They include difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing and extreme fatigue. While in most cases, the symptoms will abate and the child will be fine, it's essential to keep a close eye on children after any incident in the water.

If your child's symptoms continue or worsen, you should take him or her to an emergency room rather than the child's regular doctor. That's because children who have experienced secondary or dry drowning will need tests, treatment, medication and observation that can only be provided in a hospital.

While these non-traditional types of drowning account for no more than 2 percent of all drownings, they can happen. Parents and caregivers can help prevent them by taking the same precautions as they would to prevent any kind of drowning. These include teaching your children to swim and about water safety and watching them closely while in the water. If you have a pool, this is one more reason why it's essential to have locks, fences and other safeguards to prevent children from accessing the pool while you're not there. Property owners can be held liable for a drowning in their pools if they are negligent.

Source: WebMD, "Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning," Amanda Gardner, accessed May. 28, 2015

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