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Here’s the truth about 'dry drowning'

An aerial view of four small children playing in a swimming pool. Text reads: Fact: There is no such thing as dry drowning.

July 8, 2018—You may have seen or heard a tragic news story about a child who died from "dry drowning." The term has been used in a number of stories to describe a death that occurred days after someone was submersed in water.

But medical experts think it's important for people to know that dry drowning—sometimes called "secondary drowning" or "near drowning"—isn't an actual medical term. Knowing more about such cases may help save parents some anxiety—and it also might help save some children's lives.

According to an article in Emergency Medicine News, drowning occurs when someone has breathing problems after being submersed in water. It isn't always fatal. In fact, drowning can have three outcomes:

  • Nonfatal drowning without injury or illness.
  • Nonfatal drowning with injury or illness.
  • Fatal drowning.

Someone can come up from being in water, gulping, and be fine. But if the person seems to have problems breathing, has excessive coughing, foam in the mouth or isn't acting normally, they should seek medical care.

Even someone who initially has minimal symptoms should seek care, the article recommends. That means seek care if the person has severe coughing that doesn't stop within minutes—or any symptoms that seem worse than the experience of swallowing a drink down the wrong pipe.

But drowning deaths don't occur days later when no such symptoms are first present, according to the article.

That doesn't mean someone couldn't die days or weeks after a drowning episode—possibly due to an associated head trauma, chest injury or pneumonia. However, it wouldn't be due to dry drowning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 10 deaths a day from drowning. About 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.

Check out this story for ways to keep your child safe this summer.

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