It seems that at least once a week this summer I have seen a child in my office with a concern of “dry drowning”. In each case the child (anywhere from 2-6 years old) has been swimming and has had not had any issues…just a fun day in the pool. But, the following day they “seemed tired, and didn’t want to play”, but were content to watch cartoons or play video games. A few of the children I have seen were sitting on my exam table eating a lollipop and playing on their mother’s I-phones.Thankfully, none were having any difficulty with breathing!
So…their concerned parents have seen media reports and are worried that this “fatigue and lethargy” is the presentation of “dry drowning”. In most cases they have also searched “dry drowning” on the internet and the first thing they see is WebMD’s definition of “dry drowning” which would concern most parents! The article at the top of the Google search includes this.. “putting your child to bed after swimming and they never wake up in the morning”??? Who wouldn’t be worried….
But, if you ask most doctors (certainly all of the ones I know) they do not understand what “dry drowning” is, and have never seen a case like the one described by WebMD. This small survey of mine included pediatric ER docs as well. Actually “dry drowning” is not even mentioned in pediatric textbooks, and it is difficult to find the term in medical literature when doing a journal search. It is more likely to be found in media articles.
As I understand it, the term “dry drowning” was first discussed in animal studies from years ago, in which animals died after ingesting water and experiencing laryngospasm, and it occurred 1-2 minutes after the immersion in water. None of the articles discussed “dry drowning” in children….but articles did discuss drownings!
In a pediatric study looking at data from over 15 years and “immersion related deaths- drownings” it was found that most drownings occurred at home and over 90% were due to lack of supervision. There were no deaths reported from “dry drowning”.
I am not concerned about any of my patients and “dry drowning”, but I am concerned about drowning!!
Take home message….take your children to swim but be vigilant in watching them…..and you will not need to worry about any immersions or drownings!! Drowning is preventable.