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Secondary Drowning Is One Of The Scariest Things That Could Happen To Your Child This Summer

Find out what you need to know to keep your kids safe.

Flickr: mikecogh / Via Creative Commons

In a post from May 20, blogger Lindsay Kujawa shared the details of a near tragedy that almost befell her family at a swim party the previous weekend.

Kujawa was briefly distracted when her toddler, Ronan, fell into the spa and was unable to keep his head above water. Kujawa quickly pulled Ronan out (“the whole ordeal was around 20 seconds from when he fell into the water until when I got him out,” she wrote), and he seemed fine after a brief spell of coughing. Later, however, Ronan didn’t seem like himself, and Kujawa began to worry.

Kujawa called her pediatrician who advised her to immediately take Ronan to the emergency room. Once there, chest X-rays revealed the boy’s lungs had aspirated, and Kujawa was told he would need to be rushed to see a pediatric specialist.

“My heart crushed into a million little pieces at that moment,” Kujawa wrote. “I felt like it was literally getting ripped out of my chest.”

In the ambulance en route to the pediatric specialist Ronan’s oxygen levels dropped, and upon arriving at the hospital, Kujawa was told that the only thing they could do was to monitor Ronan and wait. Thankfully for the Kujawa family, after a long and scary night, Ronan’s condition improved and he was discharged.

Kujawa’s post has gone viral because it sheds light on what Ronan experienced: secondary drowning, which can be fatal.

What exactly is secondary drowning?

“With primary drowning, you inhale water and you can’t breathe and you die right away,” Stephen Epstein, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians told ABC News. “But with secondary drowning, you die because of a secondary injury to the lung caused by a small amount of the water getting into the lung.”

UCLA Medical Group pediatrician Jennifer Yeung says “onset can occur one to 48 hours after relative well-being,” so it’s easy for parents to assume their child is OK, when that may not be the case.

What should you know?

Parents should be aware that any time a child aspirates water — in the ocean, pool, or bath — they are at risk, and even as little as 4 ounces of water is enough to cause deterioration of lung function. Yeung advises, “Even if the child does not display any outward signs of instability after a possible aspiration event, they should be observed in an ER for six to eight hours with close monitoring of vital signs, as the development of symptoms can be insidious and even initial chest radiographs can underestimate the severity of pulmonary injury.”


How common is this?

Secondary drowning is relatively rare, especially in comparison to primary drowning, which is the leading cause of accidental death of children under 5 in states where swimming pools and beaches are more accessible (Calif., Ariz., Fla). “The most important take-home message is prevention — adequate supervision of children around all bodies of water (even shallow) and secure fencing around pools,” says Yeung.

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