Photo Credit: Getty ImagesIf there's one place I'm 100 percent okay with being viewed as a helicopter parent, it's at the pool. I am a mama hawk when my boys are swimming. And like every other parent, when I read this story a few weeks ago about a 10-year-old boy dying from something called "dry drowning," I was a little wigged out.
The boy, Johnny Jackson from South Carolina, died more than an hour after playing in a pool and medical reports are saying it was because he had a small amount of water in his lungs.
Even more frightening? Most medical reports have said the signs of distress for dry drowning are super similar to a kid who's spent an entire day under the sun playing in water: being very, very tired. Jackson walked home from the pool. According to his mom's account, he appeared to be acting normal.
I had tons of questions, as I'm sure many parents did. Namely: How would this happen? How much water would it take for a kid to cause it to fill his lungs? Would it just happen from simple splashing around? And for the love of pete, how is a parent supposed to suspect any medical issue if the symptoms are hardly different from a kid whose tired after a regular day at the pool?
I spoke with Dennis Nielson, M.D., a professor in the Department of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at University of California at San Francisco, who really shed some light on the topic of dry drowning and water safety in general.
I'm not a doctor or medical expert, but I wanted to share what I learned.
- While Dr. Nielson couldn't comment on specifics of the South Carolina tragedy, he did say that in most cases of dry drowning, a near-drowning experience is to blame for water seeping into the lungs. Dry drowning does not mean that a person died outside of water. It means that there is little or no water in the lungs at the time of death (hence, dry). The death results from trauma to the lungs and/or brain from lack of oxygen.
- How much water would have to be taken in for lung damage to occur? An awful lot. Remember: near-drowning experience that would cause trauma to the lungs.
- How would you know if your child had symptoms of dry drowning? First things first: you'd have to know that your child had a near-drowning experience. While lethargy is a symptom, it wouldn't stick out as abnormal to a parent unless they knew their kid almost drowned. Other things to note: Dr. Nielson said you should be on the lookout for rapid breathing and the bottom of the rib cage sucking in when a child breathes. These are both signs of acute lung injury.
The Center for Disease Control reports that in 2005, there were 3,582 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States. The other two stats that are alarming? "More than one in four fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries."
But as Dr. Nielson told me, "To have a child playing in a pool and no observed incident would be extremely rare." What this means is that it would be hard to miss a child almost drowning. However, it only takes a split second for a kid to go under. Bottom line? Watch your kids in the water.
So before you freak out about dry drowning, you should instead focus on water safety.
Check out these tips from Yahoo! Health. You can read the rest of their tips for summer safety here:
- Watch young children carefully, even if you're not near a pool, lake, river or ocean. Small children can drown in as little as one inch of water, and have drowned in wading pools, bathtubs, buckets, toilets, and hot tubs.
- Even if your child can swim, never let him swim unsupervised.
- Keep children in your direct line of sight while supervising them. Be cautious about becoming distracted with poolside reading, socializing with guests, or listening to music with a headset. Children can drown silently and quickly, and many have drowned while preoccupied adults were around the pool area.