Summer is here and it’s time to go swimming. Recently there have been multiple news reports of children dying days to weeks after swimming with seemingly no symptoms and their death is attributed to “dry drowning”. Unfortunately, most of these reports contain significant amounts of misinformation and have caused unnecessary concern and confusion. In order to clear the confusion, we must start with some definitions.
The medical definition of drowning is “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.” (Definition of Drowning: A Progress Report. Bierens J, Drowning 2e. Berline: Springer, 2014.) Drowning does not imply death or impairment. Drowning has only three outcomes: fatal drowning, nonfatal drowning with injury or illness, or nonfatal drowning without injury or illness. The use of other terms such as near-drowning, dry drowning, wet drowning, or secondary drowning are not medically accepted conditions and create confusion. The World Health Organization, the American Red Cross, and the CDC all discourage the use of these terms.
So what are we as parents to do this summer to keep our children safe? Prevention is key. Drowning is a leading cause of preventable pediatric death. Always closely supervise your child in and near water. Children should always be within arm’s reach when they are in or near water. At a party always have a designated adult who is supervising swimmers. Never assume that if multiple adults are around someone will see your child. Unfortunately, many drownings occur when multiple adults are present and all assume someone else is watching them.
Remember drowning is defined as having respiratory impairment after submersion or immersion in water. A child who swallows some water and coughs but symptoms resolve completely in a few minutes does not need to be evaluated. If symptoms are similar to a drink going down the wrong pipe children can be safely monitored at home. Any child who has worse than expected or persistent symptoms including coughing, wheezing, gagging, chest or abdominal pain, or seems abnormally tired should be evaluated by a medical professional. A child whose symptoms completely resolve after a few minutes will not suddenly develop new symptoms days to weeks later.
We wish you and your family a safe and happy summer!
For additional information
Dr. Visentin works at Allied Physicians Group – Peconic Pediatrics