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"Secondary Drowning" A Rare But Real Risk

"Secondary drowning," also called "dry drowning," can trigger severe symptoms, sometimes hours after the fact, and it can be deadly.

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You may have seen first-person accounts circulating online about a summertime danger you've probably never heard about. Your kid is happily splashing in the pool one minute, then slips underneath the surface the next -- but they're pulled out in time and seem fine.
Sometimes though, they can suffer from "secondary drowning,"also called "dry drowning." It's when the water they've inhaled -- and sometimes the chemicals in that water -- trigger severe symptoms, sometimes hours after the fact. And it can be deadly.
News 13 spoke to Wyoming Medical Center's Pediatric Hospitalist Program Director about what you should know.

Dr. Anne Scholl Moore describes it as an unusual physiologic response to aspirating small amounts of water. Your kid could walk around and talk normally after being pulled out and not present symptoms for hours. But the good news is this kind of response is pretty rare.

"It's really less than one percent of the wet drownings, the pool drownings or lake drownings that we hear of, it's an unusual reaction," Scholl Moore explained. If your child has a near-drowning experience, Dr. Scholl Moore says you're OK to monitor them at home, unless they start acting funny. "Lethargy or disorientation, like they're just not themselves, or they want to lie down and sleep and just seem really out of it," Scholl Moore described. Those symptoms could also mean heat stroke or dehydration, she points out.

But Dr. Scholl Moore says the real risk this summer is actual, wet, drowning. According to the CDC, about two children die from drowning every day in the US, so swimming lessons are crucial. "Children or adults that are drowning don't always give you a lot of warning, they're not flopping around and calling for help because they can't, they have water in their airway, so if you see a person that's upright in the water and looks like they're kind of treading water and their face is underwater, it could be you have 30 seconds to get to them and get them out," Scholl Moore said.

And remember: you can never be vigilant enough. "A lot of drownings occur within 25 feet of an adult, and just because there's a life guard there, it doesn't mean they're going to keep an eye on all the children," Scholl Moore said.


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