Secondary drowning (dry): what it is, symptoms and what to do

It is possible to drown even without being in the water, a condition called secondary drowning or dry drowning. This type of drowning can occur up to 3 days after the person has been in the water and has inhaled even a small amount of water, and although this type of drowning is rare, it is more common in children.

Dry drowning can happen after an ‘almost drowning’ episode, where the person drinks and breaths in water, but without actually drowning. In this case, fresh or saltwater reaches the lungs, causing swelling of the airways, leading to pulmonary edema and the person is asphyxiated. In addition, the chemicals present in the pools can cause an allergic reaction leaving the lungs sensitized and irritated, aggravating the condition.

Main symptoms 

The person experiencing dry drowning may initially be able to speak and eat normally, but after some time may experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Somnolence
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Signs of brain damage such as difficulty speaking and communicating
  • There may be fever

These signs and symptoms can appear up to 3 days after an episode of ‘almost drowning’ that can happen on beaches, lakes, rivers or the pool, in case of an accident with water or even after the inspiration of the vomit itself, a situation that can happen in people who are unconscious or extremely sleepy due to the effect of excess alcohol on the body.

What to do if you suspect secondary drowning 

SAMU should be called by calling 192 explaining what is happening or taking the person immediately to the hospital for tests such as x-rays and oximetry to check respiratory function.

After the diagnosis, the doctor may prescribe the use of an oxygen mask and medications such as Furosemide to facilitate the removal of fluid from the lungs, in some cases it may be necessary to breathe with the help of devices.

Know what to do in case of drowning with water and how to avoid this situation.

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