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Dry Drowning: You Can Actually Drown Even After Leaving the Water

Jun 12, 2017 08:19 AM EDT
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Rare kind of drowning nearly killed a child in Colorado.
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Doctors and medical practitioners warn parents about the risk of a rare kind of drowning that killed a child in Texas and almost took the life of another child in Colorado. The rare condition, dubbed as "dry" drowning and "secondary" drowning, occurs even hours after a person got out of waters.

Medically speaking, there is no such thing as dry or secondary drowning. Drowning, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a "respiratory impairment from either an immersion or submersion in a liquid."

The term dry drowning first garnered attention after a Californian mom shared a blog regarding her own son suffering from the condition. Dry drowning, as per Tech Times, occurs when water reaches the larynx. This triggers a severe reaction causing the airways to spasm and close off. As a result of the blockage, the blood absorbs the air from the air sacs, which causes the air sacs to shrink. Due to this, blood fluids and mucus may fill up the lungs.

In secondary drowning, the patient's surfactant was washed away by water entering the lungs. Surfactant allows the organ to absorb oxygen. Removing surfactant from the lungs could disrupt oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange. As a result of this disruption, the lungs get filled up with fluids.

"I think the take-home point is if there is ever some sort of submersion event or an immersion event, don't just let it go. Keep an eye on the child," said Dr. Sanjay Mehta, a board-certified pediatrician and division chief of CentraState Medical Center's Pediatric Emergency Department, in a report from Asbury Park Press. "If there are any symptoms, period, seek immediate attention. Don't wait."

Typical symptoms of dry drowning and secondary drowning may appear like a developing cold or asthma attack. Symptoms may include difficulty in breathing, coughing, irritability and face or lips turning blue, purple or white. Dr. Mehta noted that if the symptoms occur hours after the child dipped in water, parents should consider dry drowning. The symptoms of secondary drowning may present after 24 hours.

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