Water Safety

How to Identify and Prevent Dry Drowning

Let’s start with the obvious question: What is “dry drowning?” When too much water gets trapped in someone’s throat or lungs, it can stay stuck there for as long as 24 hours, stopping the flow of oxygen to his or her brain. That’s why it’s called “dry drowning” – it happens out of water. It’s rare, but serious. Here’s what you can do to spot it and prevent it.


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  • Struggling underwater leads to risk

    • You can know your child was struggling if he or she:
      • Was underwater and came up choking or coughing.
      • Became unconscious (or can’t remember being) under water.
      • Had to be rescued. Never let a child back into the water if this happens.
  • Look for coughing, tiredness and other symptoms

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Extreme tiredness
    • Persistent coughing
    • Behavior changes like feeling sick, acting too sleepy or not being able to think straight
    • Vomiting
    • If your child has these symptoms after getting out of the water, seek immediate medical treatment and don’t put him or her to bed. Learn more about swimming safety here.
  • How to Prevent Dry Drowning

    • Teach your kids how to swim or enroll them in swim lessons. They can be introduced to water at six months old, and lessons can start at age one. Floating and treading water should be the first things they learn.
    • Learn CPR and first aid, because every second matters in an emergency. Find a class here.
    • Make sure your child doesn’t swallow a lot of water in the pool, hot tub or even during bath time.

Did You Know?

It can take anywhere from 1 to 24 hours after a close call for your child to display any dry drowning symptoms.

- Nationwide Children's Hospital