When the weather gets hot kids and their parents flock to the water, beating the heat by splashing around in oceans, lakes and pools.
The last place parents want to be flocking to during the summer is the emergency room, yet every year dozens of children end up there for drowning. This particular drowning doesn't occur while swimming though. It happens hours after the child has left the water, CBS New York station WCBS reports.
Sports medicine specialist Dr. Lewis Maharam explains to WCBS it is a condition known as "dry drowning" and it is landing a lot of kids in the hospital hours after swimming in the pool. He said it takes just a few teaspoons of water to go down the wrong way and into the lungs that causes this condition.
"Dry drowning" happens when children playing around in the pool or lake accidentally inhale water. They may cough, but then they seem fine. But, sometimes, they are not fine.
"They had a normal day and then they go to bed and they're coughing or they're wheezing or their parents see bubbling from the mouth," Dr. Maharam explained.
Dr. Maharam said the lungs are irritated and start to secrete fluid -- and as a result children can actually drown in their body's own fluid.
WCBS spoke to parents at a Long Island pool and asked what they knew about the condition. One parent said she was shocked, and especially shocked it can occur nearly a day after leaving the water.
"This is why it's so important to get the word out," Dr. Maharam said.
The symptoms can include lethargy, irritability and trouble breathing.
Jim Hazen with the swim school Safe-T-Swim advises caregivers to go straight to the emergency room, not the pediatrician, after noticing a problem after their child has been in the water.
Hazen says most cases are treatable and preventable.
"The prevention is obviously adult supervision, number one, learn to swim, number two," Hazen said.
WCBS reports that research shows not all children are susceptible to "dry drowning." And while it can also happen in adults -- it's rare.
If you're like most parents, you probably figure once your child is done swimming or playing in the water, his risk of drowning is over. But "dry" and "secondary" drowning can happen hours after he's toweled off and moved on to other things. There are steps you can take to keep your child safe.
These types of drowning can happen when your child breathes water into his lungs. Sometimes that happens when he's struggling while swimming. But it can be a result of something as simple as getting water in his mouth or getting dunked.
It can happen to adults, but it's more common in kids because of their small size, says Raymond Pitetti, MD, associate medical director of the emergency department at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
With dry drowning, water never reaches the lungs. Instead, breathing in water causes your child's vocal chords to spasm and close up after he's already left the pool, ocean, or lake. That shuts off his airways, making it hard to breathe.
Secondary drowning happens a little bit differently. Your child's airways open up, letting water into his lungs where it builds up, causing a condition called pulmonary edema. The end result is the same: trouble breathing.
Symptoms of dry drowning usually happen right after any incident in the water. Secondary drowning generally starts later, within 1-24 hours of the incident, Pitetti says.
Both events are very rare. They make up only 1%-2% of all drowning incidents, says James Orlowski, MD, chief of pediatrics at Florida Hospital Tampa.
Dry drowning and secondary drowning have the same symptoms. They include:
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling extremely tired
Your child may also have changes in behavior such as such as irritability or a drop in energy levels, which could mean the brain isn't getting enough oxygen.
What to Do
If your child has any signs of dry drowning and secondary drowning, get medical help. Although in most cases the symptoms will go away on their own, it's important to get him checked out.
"The most likely course is that the symptoms are relatively mild and improve over time," says Mark Reiter, MD, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine.
Any problems that do develop are usually treatable if you get medical help right away. Your job is to keep a close eye on your child for the 24 hours after he or she has had any problems in the water.
If the symptoms don’t go away or get worse, take your child to the emergency room, not your pediatrician's office.
"Your child will need a chest X-ray, an IV, and be admitted for observation," Pitetti says. "That can't be done in an office."
Because there are no drugs for dry or secondary drowning, your child will probably get "supportive care" at the hospital. This means checking that his airways are clear and monitoring his oxygen level. If he's having severe trouble breathing, he may need to temporarily use a breathing tube.