It’s disheartening when someone looks and feels very fine and healthy after swimming or getting out of any water body but starts having issues breathing within an hour or even a day later. They are many scary stories and videos online; all relating to how terrible this situation is. It can lead to dangerous respiratory distress in most people, and if not treated on time, it may cause various damages to the lungs. There’s no need to start panicking yeah as this article will take you through the signs of dry drowning, its causes, prevention and possible treatments. Leaving no stone unturned, let’s get straight into it.

What is Dry Drowning?

Also known as “secondary drowning”, dry drowning is a non-medical term that refers to a severe lung injury caused by aspiration of water. It is a critical condition that causes air passage to tighten and close, leading to consistent coughing, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, and sometimes death. Today, the term “dry drowning” isn’t used in the medical community as they seem to be no clear difference between it and “Drowning”.

What are the Risk Factors of Dry Drowning?

Research carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) postulates that children within the ages of 1-4 are at a high risk of drowning when compared to children around ages 5-9. Also, males are at twice the risk of drowning than females. Other notable risk factors of drowning include:

  • Poor coaching and guidance of children in the water
  • Swimming
  • Lack of physical barriers between people and water.

What are the Symptoms Of Dry Drowning?

From the definition of “dry drowning”, you’ll notice that its symptoms don’t just show up. It’ll take some hours to surface – it may even take a day to be noticed. They may act completely normal for some time. It’ll interest you to know that dry drowning is always harder to spot in toddlers than in older children. This is because toddlers won’t know how to relate the way their body feels to you. In this case, you’ll have to check for certain signs and symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headache
  • Unnecessary fatigue
  • Poor skin colour
  • Mental issues
  • Flu-like symptoms

Dry drowning leads to acute lung injury that could lead to pneumonia which reduces the level of oxygen in the body. When there’s a shortage of oxygen in the body, it becomes difficult for the organs to function well. This eventually leads to death.

What Causes Dry Drowning?

For any type of drowning, face immersion into liquids leads to a deficiency of oxygen that flows to various parts of the body. When a death occurs and it’s related to drowning, it is due to a lack of oxygen passing to the brain. This damage occurs even when water doesn’t fill your lungs.

What Causes Dry Drowning In Children?

For older children, the primary cause of dry drowning is swimming with no adult supervision. If a pool isn’t fenced properly, children may get too tempted and will easily jump in. dry drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children around 1-4 years of age followed by congenital anomalies.

Dry Drowning In Adults

In adults, dry drowning always happens in rivers, lakes or oceans. The risk of getting affected by this condition increases when you’re suffering from some health issues or other factors. Some of the factors that increase the risk of dry drowning in adults include:

  • Drinking when swimming.
  • Head trauma that comes from diving into shallow water
  • Swimming very far from shore or in rough water

Some medical conditions that can increase the risks of drowning include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature from cold water)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar that may lead to loss of consciousness).
  • Seizures

Ways of Preventing Dry Drowning

When talking about the preventive measures for dry drowning, it is important to note that death or long-term damage due to this can occur within minutes. To this effect, close and constant supervision of a child when taking a bath or close to any water body is advised. However, the preventive measures for dry drowning include:

  • When using a boat, ensure everyone wears a life jacket.
  • Make sure your pools are fenced when they are kids in the home and always close the gate.
  • Do not allow your kids to play near the beach unsupervised by an adult.
  • Avoid swimming on the beach when a lifeguard isn’t present.
  • Consider enrolling your kids on swim lessons handled by trained professionals.
  • Always swim with someone.
  • Stay away from icy lakes
  • Constant supervision of toddlers and smaller children whenever they’re close to any water body.

How Can I Treat Dry Drowning?

Whenever you notice any of the symptoms of dry drowning in a person who has been exposed to water, you’re advised to seek medical attention immediately. At times, very little amount of water might be left in the lungs, and if the person is rescued before the oxygen level reduces, there’ll be a greater chance of survival with no further complications.

The basic way of treating dry drowning is by seeking medical attention immediately. Never take chances as we’re talking about your health here.


Drowning in children takes not less than a minute, so it is important to always keep a safe eye on your kids. Whenever you’re close to any water body, always abide by the swimming guides and practice adequate safety techniques. When you notice any of the symptoms stated above in a person who has just been into the water, seek medical attention immediately.