How to Spot the Signs of Dry Drowning

In Florida, the sun is always shining (for the most part) and a pool is never too far away. Lounging on a flamingo float, swimming in the ocean and spending a day on a boat in one of Central Florida’s beautiful lakes are all year-round activities.

Now that the kids are out of school for summer break, chances are many of you will be spending even more time poolside. So parents, grandparents and any adult who will be supervising children around water this summer should be aware of the signs of a less-common type of water incident: dry drowning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. Among the approximately 10 people who die every day from unintentional drowning, two are children age 14 or younger.

The World Health Organization describes two classifications of drowning. Wet drowning happens when a person inhales water and it interferes with respiration, causing the circulatory system to collapse. Dry drowning occurs when the airway closes up due to spasms caused by the presence of water.

Although rare, dry drowning is a danger that extends beyond the water. When a wave crashes unexpectedly or when someone is dunked under the water while playing, water might be inhaled through the mouth or nose, which can lead to the spasms that affect the airway. Many parents and grandparents don’t realize those innocent scenarios can escalate into an emergency situation.

You will typically notice symptoms right after a water incident, but they can also appear hours later. According to the American Osteopathic Association, dry drowning can occur from one to 24 hours after leaving the water.

A dry drowning situation can mimic an everyday cold or the fatigue felt after spending a long day spent in the sunshine. If your child has a near-drowning experience or inhaled a large amount of water during a water activity, watch for the following symptoms listed on the AOA website:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Sleepiness or a drop in energy level
  • Irritability
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting

While these symptoms can improve over time, a visit to a medical professional is recommended. And to avoid both wet drowning and dry drowning, be sure to practice water safety, including establishing family rules based on each person’s swimming ability, preventing unsupervised access to the water, and maintaining constant supervision of children around the water.

As you enjoy family time at the pool or the beach this summer, stay aware of all the things that could affect your child’s well-being, both in and out of the water.


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Written by Kaitlyn Fusco

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