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Is Your Child at Risk for Secondary Drowning?

By HERWriter
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is your child at risk of secondary drowning? PS Productions/PhotoSpin

Just because a child or adult is rescued from a near-drowning situation does not mean the danger of drowning is over.

Post-immersion respiratory syndrome or “secondary drowning” can result in death up to 48 hours after a near-drowning incident.

Drowning occurs when liquid is inhaled into the lungs which prevents breathing. Near-drowning occurs when a person almost dies as a result of being under water or inhaling fluids.

Near-drowning incidents may be over quickly, such as when a child falls in a pool and is immediately rescued. Other incidents may require more serious intervention, including CPR and emergency medical help.

It is important to remember that even if a child or adult is successfully rescued from a near-drowning incident and appears to be fine, the danger may not be over.

When a person nearly drowns, water gets into the lungs. This can cause damage to the small air sacs in the lungs that allow oxygen to transfer from the lungs into the bloodstream.

When water remains inside these air sacs, it can become increasingly difficult to breathe. This can lead to a type of post-immersion respiratory syndrome that is sometimes referred to as secondary drowning. Secondary drowning can cause death if not treated quickly.

The symptoms of secondary drowning may be hard to recognize, especially in children. If your child had an incident in the water that could have resulted in inhaled water, watch for these warning signs:

• Chest pain, coughing or difficulty breathing

• Unusual or sudden changes in behavior

• Extreme tiredness

It is important to be alert for warning signs in children and adults following a near drowning. Secondary drowning can occur within a few hours or may take up to 48 hours to develop. Some experts recommend monitoring in the hospital for anyone who nearly drowned.

Although secondary drowning is rare, accounting for less than 2 percent of drowning deaths, it is important to know the symptoms for rapid treatment. Such treatment typically includes providing oxygen or ventilated breathing at the hospital.

If secondary drowning occurs, immediate emergency treatment is necessary to prevent death.


WebMD. What Are Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning? Emily Newman. Web. June 3, 2014.

US National Library of Medicine. Secondary drowning in children. J H Pearn. Web. June 3, 2014.

Mayo Clinic. Pulmonary edema. Web. June 3, 2014.

Medline Plus. Near drowning. Web. June 3, 2014.

Reviewed June 4, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.