What you need to know about dry drownings

Posted at 5:48 AM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 05:48:12-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Summer is here and in west Michigan we’re surrounded by water, which means you’ll likely be spending time at the beach.

Area doctors say this community has almost a hysteria level of concern over dry drowning.

Some know it as the silent killer but we talked with an area doctor to find out what you really need to know about dry drowning.

“I think the best way to explain dry drowning, which is a really confusing term, is that it’s what happens when someone has a drowning event and they live but they’ve sustained damage to their lungs,” says Dr. Erica Michiels, Associate Medical Director for Helen Devos Children’s Hospital.

Dry drowning can happen anytime someone is in or around water.

Dr. Michiels says, ”People think that dry drowning is this silent killer and that up to days later after their child has been swimming they could put their child to bed looking completely fine and their child would die in their sleep from dry drowning, that is not the way dry drowning happens.”

In fact Dr. Michiels says the signs will be pretty noticeable, symptoms typically occur immediately after someone gets out of the water or up to 8 hours later.

“The child isn’t going to look well, they’re going to be coughing, they’re going to be struggling to breathe. Younger children are going to be fussy or lethargic, older children are going to say my chest feels tight, I can’t get a good breath and they may cough so much it makes them vomit even,” says Dr. Michiels.

That’s when you’ll want to take your child to the hospital so doctors can make sure their lungs recover properly and then look at other organ systems that could be damaged.

However, Dr. Michiels says she sees several parents bringing their children in when they don’t need to.

“I really encourage them to listen to what the physician has to say, most of them (parents) feel they need to have a chest x-ray to know if their child is suffering from dry drowning or not and that’s not the case,” says Dr. Michiels.

When it comes to prevention, Dr. Michiels says make sure to have life jackets for younger children when they’re around the water, have older children use a body system, talk about the dangers of mixing drinking and drugs with swimming and that you’re using appropriate fencing.

As always keep and eye on your child and remember that drowning is silent so children are not going to scream, splash, cry for help they don’t have air to be able to do that.