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Sea Sick: Dry drowning can occur long after victim has been ‘rescued’


Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

We all know what drowning is, but what about dry drowning? 

When a person falls in the water accidentally, often they inhale or gasp and water can enter the mouth. Once the person has been rescued from the water, most think the danger is over and move on. This is not always the case.

Dry drowning, or secondary drowning, is something that happens most often in the summertime and most often to children. Dry drowning can happen to adults, but it’s more common in kids because of their small bodies. It often occurs hours or even days after a near drowning experience. If left untreated, if can be fatal or lead to other serious medical problems.

Dry drowning happens when a child inhales water through their nose or mouth. Water gets into the lungs,  which then become irritated, spasm and produce fluid.


While 95% of children are fine after accidentally slipping underwater, it’s important to be vigilant and aware of drowning symptoms that can happen once your child appears safe and dry. Dry drowning is a medical emergency that requires prompt attention. 

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Coughing 
  • Chest pain 
  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Feeling extremely tired or lethargic
  • Changes in behavior, unusual behavior, irritability or a drop in energy levels may also be warning signs due to a decrease in oxygen getting to the brain.


The patient must be taken to a quality hospital for observation quickly. Anyone with symptoms of dry drowning after a near drowning incident requires medical observation to make sure that regular breathing resumes and rule out other conditions, such as secondary drowning or bacterial pneumonia. 

Doctors will perform a chest X-ray, and a consultation with a pulmonary specialist is often suggested to rule out water in the lungs.


The most important thing you can do is always keep your eyes on the child while around water. 

Always try to select areas where there are lifeguards or other trained professionals that are also watching the child,  and never let the child be around the water unattended.

If you have young children of your own or have young children on board,  you should consider water-safety classes for you, the crew and the children themselves. Some of these programs work with children as young as 6 months old.

Never let your guard down with young children, as it does not take much water to drown – think a bathtub, toilet bowl or kiddie pool.

If you have a near drowning experience with a child, it is always best to seek immediate medical attention. If you are not near professional medical care, you should call a physician to get advice. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

EMT Keith Murray provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. His company can be found at Comments are welcome below.

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2 thoughts on “Sea Sick: Dry drowning can occur long after victim has been ‘rescued’


    The hypothesis that death can occur without liquid aspiration has been linked to the observation at autopsy of apparently normal lungs in approximately 10–15% of drowning cases. Dry drowning has been explained by mechanisms such as protracted laryngospasm and vagally mediated cardiac arrest triggered by contact of liquid with the upper airways. The concept of dry drowning has recently been criticized, with recommendations to avoid this term (

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