Dry drowning: Some of the myths dispelled

- As people are flocking to pools, rivers and lakes to keep cool from the summer heat, recent reports of “dry drowning” have some parents concerned. But some doctors say those concerns may be unnecessary.

FOX 5 checked in with a pediatrics group in Maryland to clarify what we do and don't need to worry about.

“We are hearing probably a call an hour about dry drowning,” said Dr. Elizabeth Jalazo of Potomac Pediatrics in Rockville.

Calls have flooding into this office after recent reports of the death of a child in Texas and another possible dry drowning case in Colorado. It is what parents and nannies are talking about at local pools.

The idea of dry drowning is that a child could suddenly die from fluid in the lungs or around the heart days after swimming with little to no symptoms.

Dr. Jalazo, the mother of three children herself, is working to dispel some of the myths. She wants parents to know dry drowning and secondary drowning are not even medical terms.

“These are absolutely terrifying stories and it is 100 percent reasonable that parents are concerned about this,” she said. “Any reasonable parent would be. But when we look a little bit closer at those stories, they are very clear to say in the stories that no autopsy results have been published at this point, and so there really is no clear link between the swimming event and death of this child.”

She believes there could be other factors or illness that played a role in the Texas case. But parents can rest assured that a child who breathes water into their lungs would show clear symptoms.

“What is more important to clarify here is this kind of misnomer that a child could be walking around looking well hours or even days after swimming and then all of a sudden die,” said Dr. Jalazo.

She said any child who has had to be pulled from the water by a parent or lifeguard should have immediate medical attention, even if they appear okay afterwards.

But it is important to note if a child is in danger of having aspirated water, they would look and act sick and become progressively worse over the next six to 12 hours.

“We shouldn't rely on ourselves to know there wasn’t necessarily an event that was significant,” Dr. Jalazo said. “You take your eyes off your kid for two seconds and a significant event could have occurred, so that kind of highlights the importance of paying attention to your child. If in that six to 12-hour window after they have been swimming they start to have that progressive cough, they are having difficulty breathing, they are not acting like themselves, those are certainly reasons to be seen and evaluated by a medical doctor.”

Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death worldwide and it is a good opportunity to point out basic safety – not just for the beach and pool, but any time a child is submerged, including baby pools and even bathtubs.

- No child should be in the water unattended, even those who can swim.
- Toddlers and preschoolers should be within arms’ reach of an adult, even if a lifeguard is present.
- Flotation devices are not substitute for adult supervision and parents should avoid distractions like cellphone and alcohol use.

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