Should dry drowning really have moms on high alert this summer?

Jun 16, 2016 at 4:01 p.m. ET
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There's a good chance you already have the dangers of spray sunscreen and of turning on the garden hose to let your kids cool off etched in your brain right about now, and we aren't even deep into summer yet. Are you ready for the next scare that's headed to a moms' Facebook group near you?

Dry drowning has become a topic of great concern for parents in recent years, but before you think "great, another thing to worry about this season," let's start separating facts from social media fiction.

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First of all, dry drowning, also known as "delayed drowning," has and can happen, which means there's no use telling any parent to remove the idea completely from their minds. But as Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center explains, the much-Facebooked summer danger is also a relatively rare event, though something that necessitates close monitoring and swift action if your child develops respiratory distress after swimming.

"Dry drowning is drowning from fluid in the lungs that occurs not during submersion in water but up to 24 hours after swimming or bathing," Fisher says. "If the child mistakenly breathes water into his lungs, the vocal cords can spasm, causing fluid to enter the lungs. This fluid can cause problems if the lung reacts by swelling, which decreases the amount of oxygen that can get into the body. The drowning is 'dry' because it occurs after being out of the water."

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Dry drowning can occur in children of any age group and can best be prevented by taking appropriate precautions around water and making sure children over the age of four years get swimming lessons, Fisher says.

"Children should be supervised by at least one adult at all times while near a body of water, including bathtubs," she says. "Parents and caregivers should know CPR. Proper fencing around swimming pools is an important safeguard. Passengers of all ages on a boat need to wear a life jacket."

Incidents leading to dry drowning can occur in a matter of seconds. But one of the biggest misconceptions out there about dry drowning is that it can suddenly sweep in and affect a child hours after swimming. In fact, there are telltale signs parents should look out for and stay on top of during and right after time spent in a pool or other bodies of water.

"If a child has an event while swimming or bathing which caused him or her to struggle to breathe after taking in water, then the child should be watched for 24 hours for signs of difficulty breathing, coughing, vomiting, unusual behavior or extreme sleepiness," Fisher says.

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If you have a bad feeling that your child's lungs have been compromised in some way while swimming, don't hesitate to visit the emergency room.

"Treatment of dry drowning includes obtaining a chest X-ray, having an IV and being monitored for signs of respiratory distress or compromise," Fisher says. "The lifeguard can perform initial life-saving measures, but observation should take place in a medical facility."

It's important to remember that dry drowning only accounts for one to two percent of all drowning incidents. While that statistic won't give parents complete peace of mind, we hope knowing how to prevent dry drowning and the symptoms to look for makes you feel more in control of the situation.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

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