Secondary drowning is something that you may not know about — even if you've been CPR/First Aid trained (and you should be, see below for more on that). It can happen when a kid has a near-drowning incident, and retains some fluid in the lungs. "It occurs when a small amount of inhaled fluid acts as an irritant, causing inflammation and leakage of liquid into the lung," says Michael Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. Strangely enough, the body can respond by adding to the liquid in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema.
It's one of those weird, underreported health issues that can be easy to overlook, and can result in serious injury and even death. And it can occur up to 72 hours after the original almost-drowning incident.
"If your child breathes in water or comes out of the pool coughing or sputtering, monitor them closely, keeping an eye out for difficulties in breathing, extreme tiredness or behavioral changes," Roizen told YouBeauty. "All of these are signs that your little swimmer may have inhaled too much fluid."
Contrary to stories that have circulated on social media, children who have died because of secondary or "dry drowning" typically show some signs of distress when they first come out of the water.
It's a significant enough issue that the World Health Organization has recognized it as a problem. Anyone who is exhibiting the above symptoms after a near-drowning incident should be seen by a medical professional.
Of course, drowning (or near-drowning) can be prevented by following a few simple rules. Teaching kids to swim is the first one, and it's a skill they use for life. Putting up fences around home pools (where most drownings occur), with lockable gates can prevent accidents, and a designated "water watcher" should always have both eyes on swimming children — not on their phone or chatting with a friend.
“Drowning remains the leading cause of accidental death for children between the ages of 1 and 4,” acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Robert Adler said in a release. “Most of these incidents happen at home, and all of these tragedies are preventable. I urge all parents and caregivers to teach children to swim or sign them up for swim classes, put a fence around all pools, and always watch children in and around the water.”
I've written it before, and I will do so again; if you are a parent, or spend time around kids, you should take an American Red Cross CPR and First Aid class. If you are a childcare provider, even casually (ie. babysitting or nannying), you should have this training too — parents insist upon it for anyone who cares for your kids. It's a few hours training every few years and you could save a life. Not doing so is downright irresponsible — this is basic lifesaving information everyone should know, especially those who spend time around kids.