The facts about dry drowning

What doctors want parents to watch out for

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SAN ANTONIO – Over the past couple of weeks you may have heard stories about "dry drowning," but it's actually a phrase doctors don't really care for.

So why not?

“Basically we refer to things as either a 'near drowning' or a 'drowning,'” University Hospital's Dr. Craig Cooley said. “A 'near drowning' is that catch-all term (for) any sort of event where someone goes underwater unexpectedly.”

RELATED: Texas parents warn of 'dry drowning' dangers after 4-year-old son dies

When a near drowning happens, a person may never lose consciousness but could develop symptoms within 24 hours.

“All those patients need to be seen right away, even if it seems relatively minor and they didn’t become unconscious,” Cooley said.

The delayed reaction happens when oxygen doesn’t get to your lungs. When water strikes the larynx it causes it to slam shut. The reflex is to not let water into the lungs.

RELATED: Dad saves son from dry drowning after reading about Texas 4-year-old's death

Symptoms can be anywhere from having trouble breathing to becoming sick and lethargic.

“Essentially they suffocate, almost like being smothered by a pillow or something along those lines,” Cooley said.

Another rare scenario happens when a little water gets in the lungs and damages them. The lungs then fill with fluid, a condition called pulmonary edema.

“This scenario is actually very rare, but obviously becomes a high-profile and media-covered event,” Cooley said.


So should parents be concerned?

“The important take-home message for parents is if their child is submerged under the water for any period of time more than a few seconds when they weren’t swimming underwater on purpose (particularly young children who can’t swim), especially if there is any period of time of them being unconscious, they need to call 911 and/or get to the hospital for evaluation,” Cooley said.

RELATED: 'Dry drowning' story saves another boy

What is not rare are actual drownings. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five people who die of drowning are children 14 and younger.


“What our goal is always with stories like this is the focus on prevention, as well as the early recognition to seek medical care immediately,” Cooley said.


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