Safety Experts, Doctors Urge Parents to Be Vigilant Around Water


With summer in full swing, parents are being warned by health professionals and child safety advocates to monitor their children more closely around water.

When Lindsey Kujawa took her eyes off her son for just a few seconds at a pool party, her toddler jumped into a hot tub and the jets pushed him to the other side. After about 20 seconds Kujawa pulled her son out and he seemed fine. WCHS-TV reports that Kujjawa, in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America”, said after about an hour, she noticed that her son was coughing and lethargic and rushed him to the emergency room. There she was told that her son was was suffering from a little known, but very dangerous condition, often called secondary drowning.

The condition, which is a result of fluid that is left in the lungs after the intake of water, prevents tiny air sacs in the lungs from sending oxygen into the bloodstream.  This can eventually cause the heart to stop beating.

“This case is not a total surprise and it can happen, but not in the majority of cases,” said Dr. Paul Pepe, chair of emergency medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who has conducted numerous studies on drowning in Texas and in Florida, where rates are high.

Pepe added that although this is not a common event, it does occur. In medical terms, even when a child is resuscitated after falling in water, pulmonary edema can develop in the first three to four hours after water has been taken into the lungs.

Last week, the USA Swimming and the Pool Safely campaign announced that 95 children under 14 have drowned in pools and spas in the US this year as of May 31. Of that number, 74 involved children under 5 years of age. The organization does not keep records of deaths from secondary drowning.

Ellyn Pollack, spokesman for the organization, said “secondary drowning” is not a phrase that her group uses because the child has died from drowning even if the death occurs two days later. The data used comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission which urges parents to teach their children how to swim. The CPSC reports that there are up to 400 drownings per year in the US among children under the age of 15. Approximately 75% of the children are under 5 years old. Drowning is the number one cause of death for children under 5.

Another type of drowning is known as “dry drowning” says Asher Fogle, writing for Good Housekeeping, with some experts estimating that dry and secondary drowning account for about 1 to 2% of these fatal events.

“This smaller percentage, while rare, is really scary because the symptoms can be delayed,” Dr. Mark Zonfrillo, from the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells

In cases of “dry drowning”, however, water never reaches the lungs, but occurs when a small amount of water is taken in through the mouth or nose making the airway spasm and close up. It can take place in water or briefly after exiting.

For both dry and secondary drowning, the symptoms to watch for are trouble breathing, coughing, sputtering. Additionally, with secondary drowning, parents should look for vomiting, sleepiness, lethargy, chest pain, fever, or unusual mood change.

Waiting too long to administer CPR, or to take the child to an ER, can cause complications. Swimming lessons are crucial according to the CDC, along with learning CPR, close supervision, and constructing barriers around pools and spas.

Jenna Birch of Yahoo! Health details 6 types of drowning, and although the World Health Organization simplified things in 2005 by putting all types of drowning under the one umbrella term “drowning,” knowing the distinctive manners in which people can drown may be helpful.

Wet drowning is when a body is underwater and the victim inhales water into the lungs making it impossible to take in oxygen. Dry drowning is when the throat reflexively closes and the victim dies of asphyxiation. Silent drowning takes place when there are no warnings, no sounds, no splashing, and no cries for help. The victim silently goes underwater and drowns.

Active drowning is when the victim is fighting and flailing. This type of victim’s thrashing can make rescue dangerous or impossible. Passive drowning describes a victim who is unconscious and in the last stages of the drowning incident. Secondary drowning occurs when a person has a near drowning experience, or a serious intake of water, but does not show symptoms until up to 24 hours after the episode.

The settings in which drownings can occur differ dramatically. Children can drown in larges bodies of water, lakes, pools, spa tubs, bathtubs, and even in large buckets. Emergency medicine physician Darria Long Gillespie, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, implores parents to never let their guards down. One moment of distraction is the first step to most childhood drowning events.