ddSummer is a time for water fun, but also for a higher risk of drowning.

Many people don’t realize that people can drown even after they’re out of the water. It’s a rare phenomenon known as “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning.”

To learn more, WebMD spoke with James Orlowski, MD, from Florida Hospital Tampa, whose research on drowning has earned global recognition.

Here’s what you need to know about dry drowning and secondary drowning:

While “dry drowning” and “secondary drowning” are not official terms, dry drowning happens when someone breathes in small amounts of water during a struggle, Orlowski says. That triggers the muscles in their airway to spasm and makes breathing difficult.

In secondary drowning, fluid builds up in the lungs, called pulmonary edema, after a near-drowning incident. The fluid causes trouble breathing.

A person who had a drowning close call can be out of the water and walking around normally before signs of dry drowning become apparent. But all dry drowning results in breathing trouble and brain injury, just as drowning in the water does. If untreated, it can be fatal.

  1. The first step in preventing a dry drowning episode is close observation. Observing the person immediately following the negative incident or accident with water is crucial. Remember, dry drowning need only a small amount of water or liquid, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be from a pool.
  2. Monitor the person’s breathing. Difficulty breathing, painful breathing or shallow breathing are all red flags that may indicate a person is at risk for a dry drowning episode. Count the number of respirations for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Over 20 respirations per minute could be a red flag for dry drowning.
  3. Check for persistent cough, pain in chest and mood or mental status change. Lethargy or increased agitation when lying flat, sweaty skin or color changes such as pale, or blue/grayish color are signs of poorly oxygenated blood. Remember, children can not compensate for very long like adults. They tend to “crash” quickly once these signs are present, so act quickly.
  4. Dry drowning usually occurs within 1 hour and 24 hours after incident.
  5. * If it is caught early, dry drowning can be treated.
  6. * Treatment involves supplying oxygen to the lungs.
  7. * Call 911 or take the child or person immediately to the emergency room if there are signs or symptoms indicating risk of a dry drowning episode.

Can dry drowning and secondary drowning be prevented?

Water safety is the best prevention. Keep a close eye on inexperienced swimmers and children in the water, and teach swimmers to blow water out, know their limits, and not panic in the water.

There is no substitute for good parental supervision whenever children are around water, be it a swimming pool or a natural body of water. Drowning remains a serious problem, especially for children. Prevention includes knowing CPR, teaching young children to be water-safe or to swim, and putting a fence completely around a swimming pool to prevent young children from falling in accidentally.