What is dry drowning?

Dry drowning has probably shown up in your social media feed. If you dismissed it as a threat, here’s what you need to know about the condition.

Every summer, children are lost or suffer long-term disabilities related to submersion injuries. Submersion injuries include drowning and near-drowning incidents. Frightening stories about “dry drowning” go viral on social media. You may scroll past them, thinking dry drowning is not a real threat. But it is. And it can be life-threatening.

Nonfatal dry drowning refers to respiratory impairment related to a submersion under water during which water does not actually enter the lungs because of a spasm in the airway. It can happen when a child has a close call and breathes in water. But, just like nonfatal wet drowning, where water is inhaled into the lungs, it can progress, causing lung complications. Immediate medical treatment may be needed in order to prevent further issues or death.

Even if the child appears well initially, his or her condition can change rapidly and dramatically hours after the event.

“Water-damaged lungs may not function normally and the person’s oxygen level may decrease,” said April R. Mattingly, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Community Medical Group – Crestwood. “Respiratory problems can develop and can become irreversible in a matter of hours.”

Summer safety

From bike safety to preventing heat illnesses, Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness has tips and advice to keep you and your family safe.

Prevention tools

Signs to watch for

  • Change in level of consciousness or personality
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Cough with or without pink, frothy mucus
  • Whistling or abnormal sounds while breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing fast or not at all
  • Turning blue
  • Unconsciousness

Anyone who experiences a near-drowning or a close-call event should be seen by a medical professional immediately after being rescued from the water. Health care providers will be able to observe the child for a period of time in order to predict if their respiratory status will likely worsen.

Drowning is preventable. Active supervision is key to ensuring water safety, from the bathtub to the neighborhood pool to the lake.

Active supervision means:

  • Staying alert and avoiding distractions, such as reading, eating or using the phone
  • Never taking your eyes off children or leaving them unattended in or around water
  • Continuously scanning the water’s surface and the bottom of the pool
  • Stopping unsafe play and running in the pool area
  • Knowing where to locate and how to use water safety equipment
  • Keeping a phone nearby for emergency use only