Is “dry drowning” a real thing?

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Aug. 01, 2019

When it comes to summertime fun, water safety–specifically drowning–is a serious concern.

However, according to medical and water safety experts, trending information on social media and in the news is causing misconceptions about drowning.

According to the American Red Cross, drowning is “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.” This means that drowning can happen only when there is trouble breathing immediately after the submersion. If a person was in the water and had no breathing troubles after being rescued the person did not drown, regardless of what happens later.

There are no medically accepted conditions that use the terms “near-drowning,” “dry drowning,” or “secondary drowning,” the American Red Cross states. The following terms are discouraged by many organizations, including The World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Red Cross:

  • Near-drowning: To indicate whether a person lived or died after a drowning event, the correct terms are non-fatal drowning (lived) and fatal drowning (died).
  • Dry drowning: The terms dry and wet drowning were abandoned decades ago when the real culprit in drowning injury was not understood and was mistakenly thought to be about the amount of water entering the lungs. Drowning injury is actually caused by lack of oxygen.
  • Secondary drowning (also known as “delayed drowning”): The terminology was also used before drowning injury was understood, and before medical professionals could evaluate breathing with the sophistication they do now.

According to the American Red Cross, the most important way to “treat” drowning is to prevent it. Effective methods are swim lessons, adequate supervision for children and adolescents, life jacket usage, pool fencing, and the availability of lifeguards.

 

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