What is Dry Drowning? What is Secondary Drowning? — Super Swimmies
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12 May What is Dry Drowning? What is Secondary Drowning?

In 2014, mother of 4-year-old Ronin, Lindsay Kujawa, brought her son to a birthday party. It was a pool party, so everyone was in the pool, jumping around, splashing and having a good time. Ronin was sitting on the big steps in the pool area, where it was shallow for him.

Lindsay was sitting just a couple of inches away from Ronin when she turned away to speak to her sister-in-law. In about five seconds, the moment she turned around to look at Ronin, she realised that he was no longer on the step. She frantically scanned the pool area and saw the little boy whirled by the jets of water to the other end of the pool, where he was desperate to get air.

Lindsay quickly pulled him out. The entire ordeal lasted for about 20 seconds. Other than being visibly upset and coughing to get the water out, Ronin looked totally find after he had calmed down. He seemed more tired than usual, but Lindsay dismissed it as exhaustion after the harrowing experience, combined with the heat and exercise he had for the last few hours.

Back at home, Ronin was behaving unlike himself. He started developing a cough that made him tense up every time he exerted the effort, so she called their pediatrician and left her a brief message explaining what had happened and his symptoms. The pediatrician called back almost immediately, telling Lindsay that Ronin had to be sent to the hospital immediately as he could be experiencing secondary drowning.

By the time they were in the hospital, Ronin was running a fever. Doctors ordered an immediate chest X-ray, along with a whole list of blood tests. At this point in time, Ronin was limp and almost unresponsive. The test results revealed that Ronin’s lungs aspirated – that means that he could die within minutes from asphyxiation or chemical pneumonitis (from the chemicals in the pool).

Subsequently, Ronin’s oxygen levels started dropping – from 98% to 92% and eventually to 74%. The team scrambled to attach an oxygen mask over Ronin’s face. At that point, the doctors told Lindsay that they can only monitor Ronin and wait. Thankfully, further X-rays have shown that the water trapped in Ronin’s lungs were beginning to clear significantly. However, due to the chemicals from the pool, Ronin also had chemical pneumonitis, causing his lungs to be irritated and inflammed, but not life-threatening.

Ronin was eventually cleared to leave the hospital by the next day.


Doctors say that the aftermath of a near-drowning incident happens more often than parents think it would be. If your child experiences certain symptoms after a near-drowning episode, like coughing, fatigue, limp body and low responsiveness, please do not send them to bed and send them to the hospital instead.



5 Things About Secondary Drowning That Parents Must Know

#1. It occurs out of water

While many parents heave a sigh of relief when their kids are out of water, the scary thing about secondary drowning is that it occurs OUT of water.

#2. It takes time to show symptoms

Depending on individual and the severity, symptoms of secondary drowning can take as short as 1 hour to as long as 24 hours to surface.

#3. The symptoms are…

Coughing, chest pains, difficulties in breathing, extremely lethargic, not responsive, irritability.

#4. Children are more susceptible to secondary drowning

#5. Parents CAN prevent this from happening!

The best way to prevent secondary drowning is to avoid near-drowning experiences when children are at the pool. Close supervision, proper attire and good pool practices will help to reduce the incidences of drowning. By enrolling your child to swimming classes will also help to prevent drowning incidents.

Should children unfortunately exhibit the symptoms of secondary drowning, do not let them go back to bed. Instead, bring them to the nearest hospital to seek emergency treatment.