Dry Drowning: Doctors Want You to Know It’s “Extremely Rare”

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The term “dry drowning” may sound a bit strange.

Dr. Stephen Leffler, Chief Medical Officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center says it happens only after you’re out of the water.

“They seem to be fine most often, everything looks good, but when they were trying to breath against closed vocal chords, fluid actually leaks from their own body into their lungs,” said Leffler.

A recent story in Texas, resulting in the death of a four year-old, has parents like Elizabeth Heeter worried. “I think it’s tragic that it happened and that it happens,” said Heeter.

Heeter has an 11-month old baby, Sky. She said she had never heard of dry drowning before.

“As a parent you can never be too vigilant about keeping an eye out for your kids,” said Heeter.

While the condition mostly happens in young children, because of their small size, doctors want parents to know dry drowning is extremely rare.

“I’ve been an emergency physician for 24 years, I think I’ve seen it three times,” said Leffler.

Leffler adds all three cases were children, and they all survived.

He adds in most cases, those who have symptoms seek medical care from the event, and doctors are aware to watch out for it.

If you or your child do have a significant event in the water, doctors say coughing is the first sign something is wrong, but it’s also why it can be easy to miss. Sometimes, you may not have symptoms until hours, or days later.

“Essentially the damage that’s done to your lungs by that initial exposure can take some time to show the effects and make you sick,” said Leffler.

“I don’t think I would take my child to the emergency room for a cough, definitely for a near drowning experience, yes. But if I didn’t connect them then that is kinda scary that that could happen,” said Heeter.

Though baby Sky hasn’t gone swimming yet, her mom is hopeful she’ll enjoy the lake, and do so safely.

“She loves baths, so it’ll be like a big bath tub,” said Heeter.

Other symptoms of dry drowning include chest pain, wheezing, trouble breathing, fatigue and irritability.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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