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What every parent needs to know about secondary drowning

A mother’s story that nearly ended in tragedy serves as a lesson that we never knew — that you or your child can drown hours after being in the water.

You know that your child must be taught about water safety from a young age, and that you must watch them carefully when they’re in the water. But you may not have known that hours after a near-drowning incident, you can still drown. A mom took to her blog to share her story that could have had a much more tragic ending. Knowing the signs of secondary drowning may save your child’s life.

A scary wake-up call

Unintentional drowning is a big risk for children — nearly one out of every five drowning deaths occur in the 14-and-under age group, and according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4. Secondary drowning, however, is quite rare, but as Lindsay Kujawa found out, it can be every bit as dangerous.

She and her toddler son went to a pool party at a family member’s home. While her little boy sat on the first step of the spa, she looked away, just for a second — and he slipped beneath the water. After some coughing and sputtering, however, he was OK — or so she thought.

Once he was home, he began behaving differently and developed an unusual cough. She was concerned enough to phone her doctor who directed her to the emergency room, where he was found to have retained some water in his lungs that made him very ill. Fortunately, he recovered.

What you need to watch out for

The biggest lesson we can take away from Kujawa’s story is that even though your child seems fine directly after a near-drowning experience, he may not be. Watch for these warning signs.

Altered behavior — One of the biggest tip-offs for Kujawa was the way her little boy was acting. He appeared tired and lethargic and was not acting like himself, which can be chalked up to exhaustion after a scary incident — but that’s not what it actually is.

Continued coughing — Coughing and sputtering immediately following the event is to be expected, but coughing after that time is not. Kujawa’s little boy developed an unusual cough that continued on instead of abating.

Change in color or breathing — Even if your child isn’t actively coughing, you’ll need to pay close attention to his breathing pattern. Any change, such as fast or labored breathing, could be a red flag. Also note if your child’s color changes. Of course blue lips or fingernails are a sign of oxygen deprivation, but being unusually pale can signal danger as well.

Kujawa’s story, while terrifying to go through, fortunately had a happy ending. Sharing her ordeal and learning the signs of secondary drowning may just help save your child’s life.

More on child safety

Keeping your family safe in the water
Water safety at the beach
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