Secondary Drowning

By JCS Staff

Summer camp has barely started and already there’s more to worry about than I ever thought possible.  Wasn’t it enough to have to remember to pack swimsuit and towels, but water shoes, sunblock, and extra bags for wet clothes? Don’t even get me started on the extra loads of laundry that are now a nightly activity.  Although I remember loving camp as a child, I’m not quite as fond of it now that I’m a mom.

When I was a kid, my mom always warned about the perils of swimming too soon after eating. But now the pool-related worries for my children include something dangerously new: secondary drowning.

It’s a potential threat to children’s health, and it’s way more serious than stomach cramps.  Secondary drowning is basically drowning AFTER you leave the pool.  It’s rare..but it happens.  And the scary part is that it can happen hours after a child appears to be fine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of all drowning victims are children between the ages of 1 and 14.  While the CDC doesn’t differentiate between the different types of drowning, it’s hard to know how often secondary drowning actually happens.. but as a parent, all you need to know is that it happens at all.  It happens when water gets inhaled into the lungs.  The water, often treated with chlorine, can irritate the lining of the lungs and cause drowning up to 48 hours after exposure.  It doesn’t always happen from falling in a pool or being dragged under water.  It can also come from splashing or other seemingly harmless horseplay.  Any accidental ingestion of water can be dangerous.

So adults need to be on the lookout for warning signs hours after leaving the pool:

-difficulty breathing

-extreme or unusual tiredness

-coughing after the event is over

-child not acting normally

-sudden change of personality or energy level

-slurred speech or bowel control issues

-change in color of the lips

If you see any of these signs happening in an extreme manner, seek medical attention immediately.  Remember that most kids will be tired after a long day of swimming, but if your child is experiencing behaviors you haven’t seen before, it’s important to take note.  Your quick action could mean all the difference in the world.

Besides monitoring your kids in the water and after the fact, there’s also something you can do for your kids ahead of time – give them swimming lessons.  The Talmud tells us that parents are obligated to teach their children to swim – literally so they won’t drown and figuratively so they will be able to navigate life’s challenges.  So follow the advice of our wise ancestors.  Let your kids become as familiar as possible with the water and hopefully they will be able to handle whatever comes their way.  Make water safety a priority and then your big worry can go back to folding all those towels.


Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.

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