ER Doctors Are Sick of Hearing the Term 'Dry Drowning'

They say media reports 'unduly alarm' parents
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 13, 2017 7:19 PM CDT
ER Doctors Insist There's No Such Thing as 'Dry Drowning'
Children learn to swim at The Dive Spot on Friday, June 24, 2016, in Abilene, Texas, as part of the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson Event.    (Nellie Doneva/The Abilene Reporter-News via AP)

There have been many reports lately about so-called "dry drowning," "delayed drowning," or "secondary drowning," like when a boy in Texas died several days after swimming last month. But many experts, including emergency room doctors, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and the CDC, say there's a big problem with these terms, which are confusing and "unduly alarming" parents, reports Live Science. Drowning is defined as breathing problems following being submerged or immersed in a liquid, and it doesn't necessarily kill a person. If it does, it can take minutes, hours, or even days, though lengthy delays are very rare. So-called dry drowning is, in short, just straight-up drowning. As one doctor describes it on her blog, drowning happens when someone aspirates, which is the technical term for something passing the trachea into the lungs.

Aspirating can kill someone quickly, or lead to more drawn-out breathing trouble and even pneumonia or death days after the event. It's very different from swallowing something into the digestive tract. That may make a swimmer cough or even throw up, but aspirating involves coughing, gasping, sputtering, and may even require CPR. If coughing, wheezing, or pain persists, or a person seems unusually tired, it's time to get to the ER. The bottom line? Watching children while they are swimming is key to knowing whether they actually aspirate. If they don't, they're not going to fatally drown next week. "There are no cases of completely normal, asymptomatic patients who suddenly die because they went swimming a few days ago," said the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians in a statement this week. (This little girl drowned and almost died several hours after exiting a pool.)

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