What Every Parent Should Know About Secondary Drowning

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Dangers of secondary drowningOur maritime lawyers have blogged about the dangers of recreational water activities when it comes to drowning. Drowning accidents can happen at a moment’s notice, even when parents are vigilantly watching their children and even when children are exceptional swimmers. But while many people are aware of the risk of drowning while in open waters, pools, or Jacuzzis, not everyone may be aware of another water activity-related threat – secondary drowning.

Secondary drowning, while rare, occurs after a near-drowning experience and most victims are children. With secondary drowning, a victim inhales water into their lungs, causing fluid to build up as a result of harmful debris in the water, such as salt, bacteria, or chemicals. The fluid buildup damages the membranes in the lungs needed to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This then leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and ultimately, brain hypoxia and cardiac arrest. Even if a victim of secondary drowning survives, they may be left with permanent damage to their lungs.

After someone survives a near-drowning incident, it may be easy to dismiss any further damage that could have occurred, especially if the victim appears to be fine. However, symptoms of secondary drowning can take up to 24 hours to develop, and if left untreated, the results can be fatal. The phenomenon is often referred to as “dry drowning” or “delayed drowning” because of the time it can take for symptoms to present themselves.

So what exactly are these symptoms?

Parents whose children have either experienced a drowning close call or who have inhaled water should look for the following symptoms associated with secondary drowning:

  • Changes in the child’s behavior
  • Lethargy
  • Bouts of coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Gasping for air

Though secondary drowning can happen to anyone, victims are most often children for several reasons. For one, adults more easily tend to realize when something is wrong and seek medical attention quickly. Children also tend to get more tired after a long day in the water and sun, and caretakers may mistake the lethargy sometimes associated with secondary drowning for simple tiredness. It can also be easy to dismiss the possibility of secondary drowning because the victim may be walking around and acting like their regular selves for hours before symptoms develop.

If you have a child or loved one who shows any of the above signs of secondary drowning, it is imperative to take the victim to an emergency room immediately. Even if no symptoms are present, near-drowning victims should always be seen by a medical professional immediately following the incident. Medical professionals will monitor the near-drowning survivor for several hours to determine whether or not they have sustained lung damage.

Unfortunately, there are no separate statistics distinguishing the number of secondary drowning cases from those resulting from wet drowning. However, there are a few things parents and caretakers can do to prevent any kind of drowning accident, such as closely watching small children while they play in the water, ensuring children wear life jackets at all times, and making sure children learn how to swim from an early age.

If you believe the secondary drowning accident was the result of another’s negligence, it may also be wise to speak to an attorney who can provide you with an overview of maritime law and whether or not you may have a viable claim.