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What is “dry” drowning and “secondary” drowning?

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2024 | PERSONAL INJURY (PLAINTIFF) - Premises Liability |

A child can drown very quickly. It only takes a moment of disorientation and a few mouthfuls of water in a pool or a lake to lead to tragedy.

However, the danger isn’t over once a child is brought back up on dry land. While “dry” and “secondary” drowning aren’t medical terms, they are significant dangers that can also cause fatalities in victims who survived the initial drowning danger.

Understanding the mechanisms of dry and secondary drownings

Dry drowning is a near-immediate complication that happens right after someone breathes water in through their nose or mouth, even though the water never makes it into their lungs. This can cause laryngospasm, which is a spasm in the vocal cords that causes them to contract, restricting the victim’s breathing. Laryngospasms can quickly turn fatal.

Secondary drowning, in comparison, involves the actual aspiration of water into the drowning victim’s lungs. The victim may seem to have fully recovered from their experience, then suddenly begin to develop symptoms of pulmonary edema or another inflammatory issue. 

Symptoms include:

  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme fatigue or lethargy
  • Blue lips, fingertips or skin
  • Vomiting or nausea

The victim may also suddenly develop confusion or an altered mental state, and they need immediate medical attention. 

Who is responsible for dry and secondary drownings?

As a parent, you want to protect your children from all kinds of dangers – but it’s impossible to keep your eyes on them every second. If your child was injured in a pool or lake belonging to a neighbor, private party or local government, you may have a valid premises liability claim. This is especially true if there was no lifeguard on duty or the lifeguard was distracted. It’s essential to act quickly to make sure that you preserve your legal options.