The Rutherford Report—Secondary Drowing Awareness

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“You have to love your children unselfishly. That is hard. But it is the only way.”

—Barbara Bush
Secondary Drowning Awareness Saves Lives

We as parents know we must be vigilant anytime our children are around water, but did you know a child could die from what’s sometimes called secondary drowning hours or even days after being in the water? I wasn’t aware of it until I read about it on a friend’s Facebook page.

Secondary drowning doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s critical for the victim to receive professional medical attention.

Secondary drowning occurs when a person aspirates (breaths in) water into their lungs and the victim cannot expel the water through coughing. It usually occurs following a near drowning incident. As little as a few ounces of water left in the lungs of a young child can trigger a physiological chain reaction where the lungs fill with fluid and become unable to transfer oxygen to the blood stream, leading to organ failure and eventually death.

Children who have inhaled water into their lungs may not show any serious symptoms right away. They may be able to walk and talk normally, only to fall seriously ill much later.

A child experiencing symptoms such as chest tightness, difficulty breathing, raspy voice, wheezing, or a persistent coughing that’s not associated with some other causes such as a cold after being in the water should be seen by a doctor. If left untreated, a child suffering from secondary drowning will become lethargic and confused as the brain is starved of oxygen.

“If there is an issue where a patient has a problem and nearly drowns, keep your attention up and make sure they aren’t showing any symptoms,” said. Dr. Webster Wong, who heads the Pediatrics Department at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. “I would never hold it against a parent who comes into the hospital and says, ‘There’s something wrong with my child, and I can’t assess it.’”

Dr. Wong emphasized that secondary drowning is not common, but he said parents should be aware of the symptoms of secondary drowning.

Click here to learn more about secondary drowning. Click here to view a drowning prevention flyer created by the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
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