The Truth About Secondary Drowning

What you need to know about near-drowning and secondary drowning


Summer is here and that means water-related fun will be on the rise: pools, beaches, boating and fishing will start to take up a bigger share of our family time. It is important to not only be sun safe, but also to be water safe. We know the importance of teaching our kids to swim and ensuring they wear their lifejackets, but what happens when our preventative measures fail?

There are a lot of things that unnecessarily scare parents because we love our children and want to make sure we keep them as safe as possible. And while many bloggers have brushed off the recent onslaught of articles regarding secondary drowning, it is something that can, and does, happen. It is important for parents to know the dangers and prepare for them, to avoid a preventable tragedy.

This all came to light when on May 20th 2014, blogger Lindsay Kujawa posted her terrifying story of her son Ronin, who fell into a hot tub for 20 seconds and, after a few hours of seeming completely fine, succumbed to the symptoms of secondary drowning. Thankfully, Kujawa’s son pulled through the ordeal.

She is now trying to educate parents on the very real risk of secondary drowning.

Secondary drowning is a very real possibility after any incident in which a person breathes in water; it can happen in a pool, the ocean or even in the bathtub. Even a small amount of inhaled fluid can trigger the reaction. It can cause inflammation and leakage of liquid into the lungs, which may lead to pulmonary edema (even more liquid being pushed into the lungs). It can reduce the person’s ability to breathe and may result in a person actually drowning in their bodily fluids.

It can take up to 72 hours for this reaction to occur.

You may think that your child is perfectly fine after a near-drowning experience. She coughs, maybe even coughs up a bit of water, but other than that, all seems fine. This is because the symptoms of secondary drowning are very subtle. Look out for a sudden change in personality or a drop in their level of awareness.

Be sure to clearly ask your child what happened: there is a big difference between swallowing water and inhaling it. This may be too nuanced for smaller children to understand, but you should attempt to explain the difference to them.

If your child has experienced a near drowning incident, be vigilant. Take them to the doctor if you think there may be an issue and monitor them throughout the night if you opt to not visit a doctor. 

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