Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Risks of Secondary Drowning

During the summer months, many people turn to swimming in pools, lakes, rivers and oceans as a way to beat the heat. Playing in or near bodies of water is certainly fun, but not without risk. Parents especially need to be vigilant about protecting their children from drowning, which occurs when a person dies due to asphyxiation caused by inhalation of water. There is another rare condition, known as secondary drowning, with which parents should familiarize themselves.

Secondary drowning is marked by symptoms resulting from a serious near-drowning incident. It does not happen after a child swallows a small amount of water. Symptoms occur from a buildup of fluid in the alveoli of the lungs as part of an inflammatory response to the near-drowning event, not from the fluid that was inhaled during submersion. Secondary drowning can occur in both adults and children, but more commonly affects children. It can be difficult to recognize because the person appears to be fine shortly after the incident.

Symptoms of secondary drowning may begin several hours afterwards and include:
  • Development of a cough or chest pain
  • Extreme fatigue in the hours after a near-drowning incident
  • Poor skin coloration
Other things to watch for are:
  • The rapidness with which the near-drowning victim is breathing
  • How the abdominal, chest and neck muscles are being used
  • The victim’s cognition, including changes to his or her ability to think or speak
While it is rare to die from secondary drowning, it is essential that the victim be monitored closely for the first 24 hours following a near-drowning event. If any of the symptoms of secondary drowning occur, the victim should receive emergency medical treatment.

Click here to view a Fox45 interview with Melissa Sparrow, MD, Clinical Director for Pediatric Inpatient and Emergency Services at GBMC, regarding the signs and symptoms of secondary drowning.

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