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Dry Drowning

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Updated May 22, 2009

Definition:

Dry drowning is a common concern for parents since the reports in the summer of 2008 of a ten-year-old boy who was reported to have died of dry drowning more than an hour after he had gone swimming.

In dry drowning, there is a spasm of the larynx (breathing tube) that keeps inhaled water from going to the lungs. Unfortunately, this spasm can lead to high pressure and fluid leaking in the lungs. Although the lungs don't fill up with pool water, they still fill up with fluid and cause breathing problems.

It is important to note that dry drowning likely follows some kind of submersion in the water where the child felt like he was drowning. It is probably not going to happen in a child who is simply swimming and doesn't have any kind of incident.

Parents should also keep in mind that the episode that was reported to be dry drowning in 2008 was actually a case of delayed drowning, as the child had inhaled some water while swimming.

Either way, the takeaway message is to watch your child for any symptoms, such as persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, or decreased activity, if he briefly chokes in the water or has an episode where he almost chokes but doesn't actually inhale any water.

Examples:
A child may die of dry drowning after one to twenty-four hours after getting out of the water.

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