What Parents Need to Know, Look for to Prevent ‘Dry Drowning’

CLEVELAND -- A warning from doctors and a grieving family about the dangers of “dry” and “delayed drowning” after a preschooler died in Harris County, Texas.

Four-year-old Frankie Delgado passed away suddenly, within several days of swimming with his family in the Texas City Dike.

“Out of nowhere he woke up and he said ‘ah’ and he took his last breath,“ said the boy's father, Frank Delgado, Jr.

Doctors told the Delgados Frankie died from “dry drowning;” something they’d never heard of before that day, WJW reports.

They thought their son had a simple stomach bug, but he had apparently inhaled water while swimming in the levee.

“His lungs were full of fluid and there was nothing else they could do for him,” said Tara Delgado, Frankie’s mother.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “injury” drowning is the second leading cause of death among children.

About 1 to 2 percent of those cases are caused by “dry and delayed” drowning.

It can happen in any body of water and even the bathtub.

Although very rare, Dr. Christine Alexander, Chairman of Family Medicine at the MetroHealth System says parents need to know and recognize the symptoms, because once they start, the clock is ticking.

The condition manifests in two ways. Dr. Alexander says the first occurs when a child is under water and gets water in the back of their throat.

“It happens in the voice box area and it starts to vibrate or really spasm,“ said Dr. Alexander, “And it’s that spasming that leads to the problem with breathing.”

The child might begin coughing and/or immediately struggling to breathe.

“The fluid gets down into the lungs and causes a chemical reaction,” said Dr. Alexander, “You’ll notice when they’re trying to breathe, you can see their rib cage in between taking breaths.”

However, the Delgados in Texas said Frankie didn’t exhibit any symptoms until later at home when he started vomiting and had diarrhea.

Other signs include chest pain, extreme fatigue, and irritability.

If a child is experiencing any of those symptoms, Dr. Alexander suggests calling a health care provider or taking the child to the emergency room or urgent care where they can quickly determine whether or not it’s a virus or dry drowning.

Victims can fully recover quickly with simple oxygen and other treatments.

However, without it, they most certainly could die, so Dr. Alexander says it’s always better to error on the side of caution.

“You have to trust your parental instinct and say this isn’t normal,” said Dr. Alexander.

The doctor says one of the most important keys to prevention is getting children swimming lessons because the better they are in the water, the less likely they are to swallow or inhale water.

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