How to spot and prevent dry and secondary drowning

After 4-year-old Frankie Delgado died days after inhaling water at Houston's Texas City Dike in 2017, his parents shared what happened with news outlets. Almost a year later, his story saved another child's life.

When Lacey Grace's daughter, Elianna, inhaled pool water and started having odd symptoms, Grace remembered Frankie's story and thought Elianna might be experiencing the same thing, secondary drowning. Grace took her daughter to the emergency room and doctors put Elianna on antibiotics to treat the infections caused from water in her lungs.

The hidden dangers of secondary drowning

May 22, 201803:51

What is dry drowning?

With such high-profile stories about near-deaths and deaths from delayed drownings, the water can feel like a scary place. What's secondary drowning? How's it different than dry drowning? Should you rush to the emergency room every time your child swallows water?

Probably not.

"Kids swallow water all the time and that is not something that is going to cause an aspiration event," Dr. Kristin Stukus, assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of emergency medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, told TODAY. "When I get concerned is when there is a submersion event for longer than 30 seconds."

The experts want people to know that drowning remains a bigger risk.

"Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children, especially in kids under 12 and especially in males," Dr. James Callahan, associate medical director of the division of Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told TODAY.

As for secondary and dry drowning, they are less common but can be dangerous.

"Seven to 10 deaths might be related to (delayed drowning)," Callahan said. "These delayed events are tragic. But it is less than 1% to 2% (of) all of the drowning injuries."


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