delayed drowning symptoms
Healthy Living

Delayed Drowning Symptoms: What to Know

Jun 26 2023

As summer kicks into full gear, families everywhere are heading to the beach, lake and pool for some summer sun and fun. And while delayed drowning is rare, it is important to know about delayed drowning symptoms so you can be on the lookout.

What is delayed drowning?

Did you know there are many different types of drowning? Delayed drowning, also referred to as secondary drowning, aren’t actual medical terms. These situations fall under something called a submersion injury.

Delayed or secondary drowning happens when water gets into the lungs and irritates the lining of the lungs. From there, fluid the builds up and can cause a pulmonary edema. In this case, you’d notice trouble breathing almost immediately and the symptoms would worsen over the next few hours. It can also cause a person’s oxygen levels to drop quickly.

Dry drowning is another submersion injury that can occur, so it’s important to know the difference between dry drowning and secondary drowning.

Dry drowning is when water is inhaled through the mouth or nose and causes the vocal cords to spasm and close up. When this happens, it can close off the airways completely, making it hard or impossible to breathe.

What are delayed drowning symptoms?

Delayed drowning can become an issue regardless of the amounts of water inhaled. Therefore, it’s important to look for the signs of delayed drowning symptoms after you wrap up any water activity, like swimming.

Signs and symptoms of delayed drowning can include:

  • Sudden and persistent coughing
  • Low energy
  • Vomiting caused by the persistent coughing
  • Breathing hard or trouble breathing

How long can symptoms occur?

Delayed drowning symptoms would start right away or within a few hours – it wouldn’t happen randomly days later. A good rule of thumb is to look out for delayed drowning symptoms right after water activity and then up to 24 hours afterward.

If you notice any difficulty with breathing, coughing or shortness of breath, you should head to the emergency room right away.

How do I know if my child has water in their lungs?

You’ll definitely notice the symptoms and signs. Persistent coughing, lethargy and difficulty breathing will be present within a few hours of any incident that happened. It’s a good idea to be mindful of these symptoms after getting out of the water, just to be on the safe side.

If you or your child does have an incident in the water where fluid is inhaled, but no symptoms are displayed, then you don’t have any need to panic.

How do I prevent delayed drowning?

Luckily, delayed drowning is very preventable with some simple water safety tips.

The following rules can help in preventing drowning as well as delayed drowning:

  • Make sure all water activities are supervised or a lifeguard is on duty
  • Never swim alone
  • Understand and adjust to the environment of the water, like currents, water temperature or hazards
  • Learn CPR
  • Wear life jackets when possible
  • Use age-appropriate flotation devices
  • Get your kids in swimming lessons early

So, when you’re playing in the water this summer, it’s important to remain vigilant during any activities where a drowning incident or drowning complications can occur. Simple water safety can go a long way as well as making sure you’re up to date on delayed drowning symptoms.

Learn about the health care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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