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The dangers of dry drowning

Sarah Wassner Flynn is a New York City-based writer. She's contributed to magazines such as CosmoGIRL!, National Geographic Kids, Runner's World, Women's Health, Prevention and MetroSports New York. She is also the author of The Book of ...

Swim safe this summer!

You watch your kids like a hawk at the pool or ocean, making sure their heads stay above water and their bodies stay afloat. But what about after they dry off and change out of their suits? There is more reason than ever to watch your wee ones well after they stop swimming. Here's why.

Boy in Pool

Earlier this summer, a 10-year-old boy died several hours after exiting a neighborhood pool. Cause of death? Dry drowning, or basically drowning without water. Though a topic not usually buzzing on parental radar screens, dry drowning isn't entirely uncommon. In fact, it claimed the lives of about 400 people in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you and your family frequent the water, here's what you need to know about this scary situation and how you can prevent it from happening to a little one in your life.

DRY DROWNING, EXPLAINED

More or less a mystery among the medical field, dry drowning is a delayed effect of a small amount of water in the lungs. This can occur when hitting the water forcefully (say, when exiting a steep waterslide or following a leap off a diving board), or simply from taking in too much while playing. The result, which can occur minutes or hours after exiting the water, is constriction or spasm in the air passage and restricted breathing, potentially leading to respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, and even brain death.

SIGNS TO LOOK FOR

The symptoms leading up to dry drowning aren't always obvious. However, look out for any signs of extreme tiredness, difficulty breathing, shifting moods, complaints of chest pains, persistent cough, vomiting, sweaty skin or a change in the color of skin. While these are all results of restricted oxygen flow to the brain, the sleepiness, moodiness and cough can be misperceived as exhaustion from too much playing at the pool, especially on a hot day.

PREVENTING DRY DROWNING

Experts say that just being aware of this phenomenon should make you more vigilant when it comes to monitoring your kids during and after their swims. Especially if they have hit the water hard at any point or if you suspect they have swallowed a gulp (or two) during their swim. If so, just keep an eye on their actions for a couple of hours afterwards. If your child does display any symptoms, get to the hospital straight away. Hopefully, it's just a case of being sleepy from all of that splashing around, but if your child is in distress, the doctor will monitor him or her carefully, or, if necessary, apply oxygen to regulate breathing. In this case, it's impossible to be too careful.

And for more info on swimming and summer safety, check out these links:

Summer safety tips

Tips for taking your child to a swimming class 

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