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Drowning is never dry: Two ER doctors explain the real swimming danger kids face |

Posted by | May 7, 2018 | Uncategorized

Updated: MAY 3, 2018 — 12:20 PM EDT


“Dry drowning” is a myth, but wet drowning is definitely not. Children must always be supervised while swimming.

by Rick Pescatore & Seth C. Hawkins, For the Inquirer  

For years, always beginning in the spring, reports of “dry drowning” have appeared. Last year, when the death of a young child in Texas was attributed to “dry drowning,” the resulting accounts spread significant fear among parents.  Social media, in particular, spread tales of healthy children who suddenly developed respiratory emergencies or even died without warning, sending legions of “worried well” to emergency departments and pediatricians’ offices. Well-meaning activists posted warning signs at local pools and organized awareness campaigns and legislation. Yet, there is no such thing as “dry drowning.” Drowning always follows some kind of submersion in water, but it is not always fatal. The outcome can range from mild respiratory symptoms to death. People who think “dry drowning” exists describe it as a rare condition.

But real drowning — the wet kind — sadly is not rare. It is a leading cause of pediatric injuries and deaths.The definition of drowning, established at the 2002 World Congress on Drowning, is “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in liquid.” In other words, no drowning can occur without exposure to liquid and some respiratory problem.

Drowning has only three subtypes: drowning without injury, drowning with injury, and fatal drowning.  Further, there has never been a case reported in medical literature of an otherwise asymptomatic and healthy child who suddenly developed serious respiratory distress or died days after being in water.  But it is important to know that symptoms can get worse in the hours immediately after a drowning event.  So even mild symptoms after a drowning episode warrant medical attention.What do we mean by “mild symptoms”? Anything that feels worse than the sensation that, while drinking a glass of water, some of it went down “the wrong way.”

Every “dry drowning” tragedy has later been found to have its roots in another medical condition.  But this part of the story seems never to make its way to social media.

Frankie Delgado, the 4-year-old boy whose 2017 death renewed the Facebook fervor over dry drowning, was later found to have died of viral myocarditis, a rare but dangerous heart condition with no relation to drowning, swimming, or any other water exposure. Other “dry drowning” cases have later been traced to rib fractures, pneumonia, collapsed lungs, and numerous other well-known medical conditions.

It has happened that people have died of drowning hours after leaving the water.  But they died of untreated complications from “wet” drowning, not any sort of esoteric condition that could not have been prevented by timely medical attention.   Drowning is never “dry.”

Nearly every major medical organization has spoken out against misleading terms such as “dry,” “near,” or “secondary” drowning applied to cases in which a patient got worse within hours of water exposure.  READ MORE….