Local doctor tries to quell ‘dry drowning’ fears

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – “Dry drowning” is a term that’s striking fear and concern in parents, especially now that it’s summer.

Earlier this month, a child from Texas died a week after swimming on a family vacation. The suspected cause of death was “dry drowning,” a result of water being left in the lung, causing it to close up.

Since the child’s death, several stories popped up on social media about dry drowning involving children. A pediatric intensivist at Wesley Medical Center is now pushing back against recent reports, saying there’s lots of misinformation.

According to Dr. Laura Haws, Wesley Children’s Hospital is getting multiple visits per week out of concerns for dry drowning.

“Very frequently the complaint is ‘My kid went swimming yesterday’ or ‘My kid went swimming over the weekend and they’re really tired’ or ‘They’re just not quite acting like themselves,'” said Haws.

Unlike recent reports, Haws said dry drowning can’t happen days after swimming — it happens within about twelve hours.

She explained that if a child is submerged under water for a period of time, and starts coughing, turning blue around the mouth or breathing heavily — get help.

She added that if a child swallows water and starts coughing for a few minutes, then recovers — there’s nothing to worry about.

“If they have made it to the next day and they have no symptoms,” Haws said. “There’s no concern for an inhalation injury or submersion event.”

Dr. Haws said if a child experiences dry drowning, it is treatable, depending on the severity. Treatments include a breathing machine, blood pressure support or water pills to remove the fluid.

KSN’s Amanda Aguilar asked how long it takes to recover from dry drowning. According to Haws, it could take days or weeks.

Haws encouraged parents and kids to practice water safety. If a child can’t swim, they shouldn’t be in water over their head and they should use appropriate flotation devices. She also advised parents to supervise kids while they’re in the pool.


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