It’s the beginning of summer and, therefore, the beginning of pool days and beach trips. If there was ever a time for water safety, it is now. However, many parents are unaware of something called secondary drowning.

Secondary drowning happens when a child’s airways open while he is in the water, allowing the water to enter his lungs. The water builds up, causing pulmonary edema, which is excess fluid in the lungs making it difficult to breathe. This can occur after something as simple as being dunked or accidentally getting water in his mouth. It can happen to adults, but it is much more common in children due to their size.

Symptoms of secondary drowning appear hours after the water enters the lungs and include coughing, trouble breathing, chest pain, and fatigue. A drop in energy levels or increased irritability may mean oxygen is not getting to the brain.

Usually symptoms will go away on their own, but it is always best to get medical attention, as secondary drowning comprises one to two percent of all drowning cases. There are no medicines to help, but chest X-rays and an IV can be administered and your child can be observed at the hospital until the symptoms are gone.

Of course, the best way to avoid secondary drowning is teaching your children water safety, keeping a close eye on them while in a pool or at the beach, and swimming with them. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends life jackets over air-filled swimming aids (such as inflatable arm bands). The air-filled swimming aids can deflate and may not keep swimmers safe.

AAP also suggests swimming lessons for children ages four years and older. Taking lessons can reduce drowning risks. However, children develop at different rates, so they will not all be ready to swim at the same age.

There are various programs through local pools and organizations that can help prepare you and your child for a safe, water-filled summer.

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