Ask the Doctor Series: Dry Drowning

Ask the Doctor Series:  Dry Drowning

Dry Drowning.  Lately, I have seen so many articles on Facebook, in the newspaper, and on local news stations about this issue.  It’s enough to strike terror into the heart of any parent, and enough to make you want to remove your kids from any swimming or water activities!  The articles and stories that have circulated talk about children dying a week after swimming, and “dry drowning” in their sleep after getting splashed in the bath.  While dry drowning is a concern, certainly we need to keep our wits about us.  It’s so easy to get sucked into the mass hysteria that the media and social media platforms can generate.  Certainly I would never minimize these tragedies.  The loss of a child is truly heart-breaking.  But many of these kids had a pre-existing health problem, or may have had other issues that contributed.  There are no statistics about the actual incidence of dry drowning, but it is felt to be quite rare.

How does it happen?

So, what is dry drowning?  There are actually two separate problems to be aware of.  Dry drowning and secondary drowning can both occur after inhaling water through the nose or mouth. In cases of dry drowning, the water causes a spasm in the airway, causing it to close up and impact breathing. Unlike dry drowning, delayed or secondary drowning occurs when swimmers have taken water into their lungs. The water builds up over time, eventually causing breathing difficulties, typically within 24 hours of a near drowning incident.  This typically takes a significant amount of water inhalation, not just a little splash in the face.

What are the Warning Signs?

While symptoms of dry drowning typically occur right after a water incident, secondary drowning symptoms can appear hours after a near-drowning experience. If your child has recently had a near-drowning experience, or inhaled a large amount of water, you should monitor them for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Coughing

  • Sleepiness or a drop in energy level

  • Irritability

  • Chest pain

  • Vomiting

If you see any of these signs and symptoms in your child, treat them as a medical emergency and take them to the nearest hospital for treatment.

How Can It Be Prevented?

  • Teach water safety, including no diving in shallow waters and only swimming in areas with lifeguards.

  • Help your kids learn to swim as early as possible

  • Ensure pools are properly guarded.

  • Warn teens of the risk of swimming under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

  • Never let children swim alone. Be vigilant when watching them swim or play around large and small bodies of water such as plastic pools or bathtubs.

  • Discourage rough play, such as head dunking, in and around water.

The bottom line is, be attentive when your children are around water, and be attentive to any changes in energy level or breathing after swimming.  It’s also important to remember that this is a very rare occurrence, and if you are vigilant about water safety it’s unlikely to ever be a problem for your child.


For more information, please see the following websites:


This blog is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this site and linkages to other sites, we provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider. Pretty Gritty Girls is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.

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