For millions of children, summertime means warm weather, summer camps, pools, and beach vacations.

The summer months may also bring an increase in the number of children in emergency rooms and trauma care units, particularly due to water injury. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 14, with an estimated 1,100-1,400 deaths per year in the United States.

Two-thirds of drowning deaths happen between May and August—prepare your family for summer with these safety tips.

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Drowning Prevention Tips

  1. Up to 90% of drowning victims are within 10 yards of safety at the time of drowning. Ensure all young children are properly monitored.
  2. Small children should never be unattended around any body of water—pools, bathtubs, lakes, etc.
  3. Be aware of streams, creeks, ponds, ditches, and other small bodies of water on or near your property. Standing water left in buckets, wading pools, bathtubs, and toilets can be dangerous to toddlers.
  4. Water safety courses can help young children, but do not replace the need for supervision around water.
  5. Parents, guardians, and babysitters should be trained in CPR.
  6. Swimming pools should be enclosed by a four-sided fence that is at least 5 feet tall and separates the pool from the house. Pool fence gates should be self-closing and self latching. They should be located on the side of the fence closest to the pool and be out of reach for small children. Complete pool fence enclosures reduce drownings by 50 percent.
  7. Do not rely on pool covers to keep children safe. They are not an adequate way of keeping children out of the pool.
  8. All people in a boat or other watercraft should wear an approved personal flotation device.
  9. If you or your child are unable to swim or unsure of your swimming abilities, wear a flotation device anytime you’re around a body of water.
  10. Children’s “water wings” are not a dependable flotation device and not a substitute for adult supervision.

Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning

The words “dry” and “drowning” seem at odds with one another. Yet, this rare occurrence already has taken the lives of children over the years. Both dry and secondary drowning occur after someone has left the water (post-immersion).

Dry drowning affects the vocal cords and throat. Inflammation in the vocal cords prevents normal breathing and results in less oxygen. Secondary drowning refers to water in the lungs. Both can occur by inhaling water through the nose or mouth.

As a parent, your concern isn’t worrying about the difference between the two. Instead, focus on being in tune with your child’s behavior, staying mindful that they recently had exposure to water, and watching for symptoms.

Medical professionals tend not to use the terms dry or secondary drowning, but the terms still persist in the public as ways to explain atypical drowning.

Symptoms of dry drowning and secondary drowning

Dry drowning and secondary drowning share the same symptoms. They include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Sleeplessness

If your child has experienced a near drowning episode, it’s important to keep a watchful eye up to 24 hours after the time of the incident.

Medical treatment for dry and secondary drowning

Treatment for any kind of drowning depends on the timeline of events and specific symptoms. Ultimately, medical professionals work to restore breathing and getting oxygen into the body.

Difficulty breathing is always an emergency. Stay calm and seek emergency treatment immediately.

What about dry drowning in adults?

Dry and secondary drowning can happen in adults, but it’s more likely in children because of their size.

Teenagers are more likely to experience drowning incidents that are related to drugs and alcohol, so talking to your older kids about risks and responsibility can prevent avoidable tragedies while boating, tubing, water skiing, surfing, and cliff diving.

However, if a person of any age exhibits the severe symptoms listed above — especially difficulty breathing — it is an urgent situation. If you are unsure what to do or where to go, call your pediatrician, family doctor or internist — whatever practice provides primary care to the patient — for advice.

About Trauma & Emergency Medicine

Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye or the beat of the heart. And when they do, seconds matter. UPMC’s emergency and trauma care services are ready to provide world-class care, no matter how serious your emergency. All our emergency departments have a full-time staff of emergency specialists at the ready 24 hours a day. We use advanced technology to diagnose and treat your condition and coordinate with your doctor to provide the best care possible. We also have specialized trauma care, including Level 1 trauma centers at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Mercy, a Level 1 pediatric trauma center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, a Level 2 trauma center at UPMC Hamot, and a trauma center at UPMC Altoona.