Although most people have never heard of it, secondary drowning has been making headlines in the last couple of years as tragic cases have made national news. Everyone is aware that drowning is a serious concern but it turns out that drowning doesn’t always occur while someone is in the water. Secondary drowning accounts for just one to three percent of all drowning deaths but it is important to know its symptoms in case your child is in trouble. So what exactly is secondary drowning?

Secondary Drowning Defined

Secondary Drowning is defined as pulmonary edema that occurs one to 24 hours after a near-drowning due to loss of surfactant. It is a secondary injury to the lung caused by a small amount of water being inhaled into the lung from a near-drowning incident or a sudden rush of water. It is sometimes also called “parking lot drowning” in reference to the fact that the person leaves the water and then drowns.
What is so terrifying about secondary drowning is that the swimmer often appears fine immediately after the water is inhaled but over the next 24 hours the water in the lungs starts to cause edema (swelling). When the lungs’ alveoli are filled with water, they cannot exchange oxygen to and from the blood and this causes the heart to slow as the swimmer’s blood oxygen level drops.

The exact number of secondary drownings is not known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission don’t separate active (or wet) drowning incidents from secondary drownings in their statistics. There are about 400 pool and spa drownings each year in the United States that involve children younger than 15 years old; 75 percent of these deaths occur in children under the age of five.

Secondary Drowning Symptoms

Symptoms of secondary drowning appear one to 24 hours after the incident and can include:

  • persistent coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • lethargy
  • fever
  • unusual mood change

Parents should keep an eye out for complaints of these symptoms because if the swelling is caught early, doctors can administer oxygen and try to remove the fluid from the lungs using diuretics and positive air pressure.

If the symptoms go untreated, the water irritates the lung tissue, causing inflammation that then progresses to pulmonary edema (you will see a pink frothy discharge from the victim’s nose and mouth), hypoxia/anoxia, respiratory and cardiac arrest, and death. The lungs themselves start to create fluid; you are literally filling up with fluid and drowning even though you are no longer in the water.

The American Red Cross recently launched a national campaign to reduce the drowning rate in 50 U.S. cities by 50% over the next three to five years. Check with your local pool for certified swimming instructors and classes.

If you or a loved one were injured in an accident, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced accident attorney fight for the full compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times bigger with the help of a lawyer. Call the caring accident attorneys at Tario & Associates, P.S. in Bellingham, WA today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!

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