Delayed Drowning – The Unknown Threat

Delayed Drowning or Secondary Drowning - water awareness from Angel MedFlight

Delayed Drowning or Secondary Drowning – water awareness from Angel MedFlight

August 18, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)

Year-round, parents get their little ones into swimming lessons to prepare them for a summer full of swimming as well as the unexpected water hazards that can come with it.  Teaching kids to use the buddy system is a great way to keep all kids accounted for.  We do this because it only takes a matter of seconds for a child who can’t swim to drown.  The law even stresses the importance of life jackets for kids and adults who can swim because there are so many potential threats if proper water safety isn’t practiced.

The latest online report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.”  The Bulletin of the World Health Organization states the definition of drowning as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.”

Drowning occurs when the person inhales water into the lungs and in which case death is immediate.  Sometimes, however, the process is not so immediate… When a child feels the sensation of drowning, they will most likely panic, causing them to exert more energy, and their bodies to demand more oxygen.  With their bodies demanding more oxygen, they will usually involuntarily breathe in water, causing them to cough or swallow.

The act of coughing is our body’s way of clearing liquid, or any other obstruction, out of our airway.  If not pulled out of the water soon enough, we are unable to rid our airway of the water, which causes us to swallow, causing our throats to relax, which allows our lungs to fill with water… and the end result is fatal.  Thankfully, at this stage we will often hear the coughing and we’re able to pull the victim out of the water allowing them to cough up the water on their own, or with administered CPR, and they survive.

This is when another precaution must be taken that most people do not know about.  Delayed drowning (sometimes referred to as secondary drowning) can occur when the victim has been pulled out “in time,” after a “near drowning” experience.  Delayed drowning is essentially the same thing as drowning, but as the name suggests, it is delayed.  Though it is not very common, a small amount of water can make it into the lungs, and the victim can walk away seemingly fine.  Even a small amount of water in the lungs will inhibit adequate oxygen exchange, depriving the brain (and other organs) of oxygen, it just takes a little longer.  Therefore, the victim still drowns.

Because a coughing spell is a normal physical reaction, as well as a sign that our body is working properly, it is that much more critical that people (especially with young children in their care) are aware of the existing danger of delayed drowning.

If your child experiences a “near drowning” or is involuntary submerged in water and comes up coughing, do not write off any fatal consequences just because the cough eventually subsides.  Instead, watch over them closely for the next 24 hours.

What to look for:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (including persistent coughing).
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Changes in mood or behavior.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms seek immediate medical attention.  There is no harm in being too safe.  Angel MedFlight takes a huge interest in people and their overall wellbeing.  Your safety is our greatest concern.  On behalf of all of us here at Angel MedFlight, enjoy the water, and please practice water safety!

For more information about water safety and drowning prevention go to www.cdc.gov.

This entry was posted in Health.

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