Dry drowning is a medical emergency that occurs when an individual is drowning whilst is not immersed in water leading to unable to extract oxygen from the air.
Dry drowning is a medical emergency that may seem unusual to most people as it is drowning whilst not immersed in water. When a person hears the word drowning, initial thought is respiratory impairment due to submersion in liquid, frequently water. This leads to too much water in the lungs. In contrast, dry drowning occurs when fluids build up in the lungs due to physiological processes leading to an individual drowning from their own fluids. It can also be a delayed effect of presence of small amounts of water in the lungs.
What makes dry drowning life-threatening is that it leads to laryngospasm, the forceful spasms of the larynx or the voice box. This occurs as the body’s response to block the passage of any liquid into the lungs. Moreover, it may also lead to shut down the passage of air and cause liquid to be stuck in the lungs and stomach. Because of the body’s need to maintain homeostasis, once salt enters the lungs, water will enter the lungs to keep the balance. As a result of laryngospasm, the body is unable to extract oxygen from air. Dry drowning usually occurs between one to twenty four hours after the cause.
Causes of Dry Drowning
There are many possible reasons for dry drowning, which commonly include:
- Near drowning
- Chest or diaphragm trauma
- Chest paralysis
- Inhalation of gases that displace oxygen, such as carbon monoxide
Risk Factors for Dry Drowning
Certain risk factors increases a person’s chance of developing dry drowning. Some of these factors include:
- First-time swimmer
- Inexperienced swimmers
- Lung conditions, such as asthma
Signs and Symptoms of Dry Drowning
Patients who experience dry drowning will vary in symptoms, as it will depend on the cause. Some of the common signs and symptoms in cases of dry drowning include:
- Persistent coughing
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath or feeling unable to breathe
- Altered mental state
First Aid Management for Dry Drowning
Dry drowning cannot be completely managed at home, thus treatment would required immediate medical attention. Call for emergency medical services or have someone drive the patient to the nearest emergency room immediately, if symptoms of dry drowning are present. In the meantime, administer first aid, although this will not completely treat the patient.
- Check for the victim’s circulation, airway, and breathing.
- Check for the victim’s pulse by the groove on the neck. If no pulse is detected, initiate CPR. Give 30 chest compressions and 2 rescue breathings.
- If the victim is unconscious but there is pulse, ensure that there is no obstruction in the airway. Turn the victim’s head to the side.
- To check for breathing, position own cheek a few inches from the victim’s nose and mouth. Feel for air and watch for rise and fall of chest. Begin rescue breathing if necessary.
- Continue to give CPR until signs of consciousness begin to show.
- If a breathing machine to give oxygen is available and one is knowledgeable on how to properly use it, make use of this instead.
- Do not leave the victim alone until the paramedics arrive.
The best way to avoid dry drowning is proper parental supervision during swimming and learning how to apply first aid in cases of emergencies. Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice and should not be substituted for formal training. The information given should not be used for self-diagnosis. Seek medical attention when necessary. It is important to recognise medical emergencies at all times to avoid complications from developing. To learn more about to how to manage dry drowning, register for first aid and CPR training with a credible Canadian workplace approved provider.
Lyn. (2010, June 1). Dry Drowning in Kids: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention. Yahoo!. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from http://voices.yahoo.com/dry-drowning-kids-signs-symptoms-prevention-5903432.html
Mann, Denise. (2008). S.C. ‘Dry Drowning’ Death Draws Attention. WebMD. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from http://children.webmd.com/news/20080605/sc-dry-drowning-death-draws-attention
What is Dry Drowning?. (ND). WiseGEEK. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-dry-drowning.htm