by Dr. Richard Mojares
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Sadly, in recent news, there have been several reports detailing the tragedy of what is becoming known across America as “dry drowning.” Only a few weeks ago, the story of a Texas toddler made the news when the 4-year-old passed away a week after a seemingly harmless incident in knee deep water.
The child was knocked over and his head went under the water, but seemed fine and played the rest of the day. The next morning, the little boy appeared to come down with a stomach bug. Only a few days later, the child died, the cause attributed to dry drowning.
Dry drowning is a term that refers to the condition of a person actually breathing in significant amounts of water during a struggle. The stress of this triggers the airway muscles and vocal cords into spasms, which then makes breathing difficult. Water reaches the lungs, and symptoms manifest as severe pulmonary distress or even fatality. The water in the lungs causes blood oxygenation to drop and the heart to slow, which causes cardiac arrest. Symptoms include coughing fits, trouble breathing, lethargy, chest pain, disorientation, and vomiting.
In another news story this month, a Colorado father recognized symptoms of dry drowning in his 2-year-old who had been swimming earlier that day. The child complained of head pains and developed a fever. Because the father had recognized the symptoms of dry drowning, he and his wife took the toddler to the hospital, where it was discovered there was a significant amount of fluid in his lungs. The quick action of these parents saved their son’s life.
As illustrated in the given examples, dry drowning most often occurs between one and 24 hours after the incident. However, dry drowning can also ensue 24 to 48 hours after an incident, developing into respiratory distress.
Although rare (1 to 2 percent of reported drownings), dry drowning is very real…but there need not be a tragic conclusion in these scenarios. If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from respiratory distress due to an incident in the water, seek medical treatment immediately.
After a medical professional has properly diagnosed the problem, often with the aid of a chest X-ray, treatment is available to ameliorate the patient’s distress. The most effective treatment involves increasing the supply of oxygen to the lungs with a ventilator through intubation or a face mask depending on the level of oxygenation in the blood.
Bear in mind, drowning can happen anywhere — not just at the beach or in a swimming pool, but in a bathtub, a small plastic pool, a pond or even a toilet bowl. Data from the CDC ranks drowning as the fifth leading cause of unintentional death in our country. So be aware of the symptoms, practice precaution and seek emergency care if you suspect the health of you or your loved one may have been compromised. It could be the difference between life and death
Dr. Richard Mojares is medical director of Family First Urgent Care in Oakhurst.