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You may have heard the term “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning” before. They are scary words and may leave you with many questions. We want to educate our families on water safety, including any type of water hazard. Find out more about these types of drownings and how to prevent them from happening to your child.



The first thing to know is that they are both extremely rare, making up only 1 to 2% of all drownings. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they are two different things.

Dry Drowning

Dry Drowning can happen when someone takes in a small amount of water through their nose or mouth and it causes a spasm in the airway, making it close up. It usually happens very quickly after inhaling the water, and you would see the signs immediately.


Secondary Drowning

Secondary drowning is when water gets into the lungs and accumulates, making it difficult to breathe. You might see the signs right away, or symptoms could appear up to 24 hours later.


What to look for:

Symptoms for both will look similar. If your child exhibits any of the following, seek medical attention:

  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Forgetfulness or change in behavior
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

What to Do

If your child is exhibiting any of the above behaviors, monitor them closely. If symptoms persist, take them to the emergency room so they can get a chest X-ray and an IV if needed. Although many times symptoms will go away on their own, it’s important to have a doctor take a look just to be sure.


How to Prevent It

Prevention is the same for both dry and secondary drowning. There are layers of protection you can take to help prevent water injuries and deaths. Each layer is another shield of protection:

  • Swim lessons: Kids who are comfortable in the water and skilled at moving around in the water are less likely to take in water.
  • Supervision: Always monitor kids closely in the water.
  • Fencing: Have fencing around the entire pool with a self-latching lock.
  • Pool toys: Keep toys out of the pool and pool area when they aren’t in use. These could lure children in.
  • Learn First Aid and CPR: This can help if there ever is an accident and someone needs resuscitation.


If you ever have a water scare, monitor your child closely. Although extremely rare, dry drowning and secondary drowning do happen. Call 911 if your child is exhibiting the symptoms.