Required Summer Reading: Secondary Drowning

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I’ve written about drowning before and how the actual process of drowning doesn’t look like you might think it would (if you missed that important post, you can read it HERE).  Today, let’s take a look at secondary drowning.

If you’re like most of the world, when it gets hot, you want to cool off with a swim, as do your itty-bitties.  Children love to be in the water, even if they’re not very good at the actual swimming part.

Secondary Drowning Signs

What is Secondary Drowning?

* Water or other fluid enters lungs during a struggle, which in turn triggers the muscles in their airway to spasm and makes breathing difficult…fluid builds up in the lungs, called pulmonary edema, after a near-drowning incident. The fluid causes trouble breathing.

NOTE: This can happen in any body of water, bathtub included.

* Person is conscious.

* Person may insist after much coughing that they are fine, may walk around and behave normally, but the fluid may stay in their lungs and impair breathing and cause drowning a few hours later, IE secondary drowning.  Onset is usually rapid and characterized by a latent period of one to 48 hours of relative respiratory well-being.

What are the Signs of Secondary Drowning?

* Coughing after ingesting water.

* Possible pain in chest upon inhaling.

* Trouble breathing or catching their breath.  Can be characterized by fast and heavy breathing.

* Lethargy and extreme fatigue

* Change in mood or behavior.

Wow, right?

While secondary drowning is not common…it amounts to only 1%-2% of all drownings…you should be aware and proactive whenever you and your loved ones are swimming.

Small children will be harder to “eye-ball diagnose” because after a full day of fun and sun their mood usually changes no matter if they have been swimming or not.  If you know they have ingested water and they exhibit other symptoms, an ER visit is not out of the question.  Secondary drowning is treatable, but can be deadly if you wait too long.

Knowledge is indeed power, my babies.  Let’s share this info and make sure we’re safe when enjoying the pleasures of a cool dip.

Put those floaties on, get the noodles, slather on the sun screen, and have some swimmin’ fun!


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  1. I read about this a couple of years ago and it’s so scary. I definitely keep an eye on my kiddo and I will not be shy about heading to the ER if anything needs double-checking.

    • I feel the same way. I try to keep an eagle eye on the kiddos when in water (even in a bathtub). Even though it’s relatively rare, it’s still cary stuff.

  2. Debi @MomOnMars says

    My daughter jumped into the water at camp when she was little, thinking she could swim. Thank God one if the counselors saw and was close enough to grab her. This topic still terrifies me. Even all these years later.

  3. These kind of posts always terrify me but I’m also so grateful for them, it’s better to be informed rather live in ignorance unaware of how to help your children.

    Thank you so much for this information, I’ll definitely watch my kids a little closer this summer 🙂

  4. As a an almost life guard ( I quite one level before certification ) we learned some pretty scary stuff… including secondary drowning. It might seem silly, but it is ALWAYS worth getting checked out by a medical professional especially after a close call!

  5. This is really important information. I’ve heard of it happening a couple times. I agree with Jennifer above, it’s best to seek medical advice with any close call! Pinning, stumbling, tweeting AND sharing to Facebook…the more people that see this, the better!

  6. Drowning is such a scary thing to think about. But the more we learn about what to watch out for, the safer we’ll be. Thanks so much for sharing this! Pinning this to my health board.

    • It is. Makes my heart hurt when I think about it, but….you are so right:the more we learn about what to watch out for, the safer we’ll be. Thanks for the share.

  7. This is so scary. Thanks for sharing. Hello from the Clever Chicks Blog Hop.

  8. This is such an important message especially heading into vacation time. I’ve shared this across other social media to get the word out. Thanks for posting.

    • Thank you for sharing, and not just because I love a good share, but because it’s important information all folks should be armed with as they head into summer.

  9. I only learned about this last week and it’s scares the life out of me – now whenever my kids are in the bath or at the pool I’m watching them like a hawk whenever they cough and splitter!

    • I keep telling myself that it’s rare, that most of the time when kiddos swallow a bit of water, they’ll be fine (which is true), but to know the signs if they aren’t is key.


  1. […] Summer is thisclose once again!  With summer break comes lots of time spent in the water, so this is a perfect time to revisit the facts of drowning and secondary drowning. […]

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