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Four-year-old Dies of 'Secondary Drowning' Days after Swimming

Written by Dr. Daliah Wachs
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A Houston boy who went swimming at Texas City Dike over Memorial Day Weekend died days later from reportedly “dry drowning,” or possible “secondary drowning.”

 

“Dry Drowning” sometimes gets confused with secondary drowning. The latter occurs when fluid gets into the lungs when one swims and hours, or days later (out of the water), causes respiratory failure.  As will be discussed below, dry drowning causes a spasm of the vocal cords which inhibits breathing.

 

Frankie, 4 years old, appeared fine until a few days later, his father, Francisco Delgado, Jr., said he appeared to be suffering from a minor, stomach ailment. Then one morning the boy woke up with shoulder pain, and “Out of nowhere, he just woke up. He said ahhh.”  His father told KTRK, “He took his last breath and I didn’t know what to do no more.”

 

Despite efforts by paramedics and the parents, Frankie passed. A GoFundMePage has been created for the family to help with funeral expenses.

What is “Dry Drowning” and “Secondary Drowning”?

Dry Drowning occurs when water touches the first pass of the respiratory tree, one’s vocal cords, larynx.  When water touches this area a reflex is triggered, causing a spasm (laryngospasm) such that the vocal cords constrict and close up the airway. It's a defense mechanism designed to prevent water from falling into the lungs. However, laryngospasm causes immediate hypoxia, lack of oxygen, and if not reversed, the victim will die.  In dry drowning, water never officially reaches the lungs.

 

bronchi_lungs.jpg

 

In Secondary Drowning, water gets inhaled and sits in the respiratory tree and if uncleared through coughing, will sit and prevent proper oxygenation. Moreover the water will irritate the lung linings causing more fluid and inflammation, resulting in pulmonary edema. This could occur hours to days after the water activity.

 

According to Florida Hospital Tampa pediatrician, Dr. James Orlowski, these events are very rare, comprising only 1-2% of drowning incidents.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms for both “Dry” and “Secondary Drowning” are similar in which the victim could have any of the following:

 

  • Cough

  • Chest Pain

  • Difficulty Breathing

  • Shoulder Pain

  • Neck Pain

  • Confusion

  • Irritability

  • Behavior Changes

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty speaking

 

to name a few…

Prevention

Horse play in water should be avoided. This includes bathtubs, plastic pools, hot tubs, pools, lakes, ocean, etc.

 

Never swim alone.

 

Swim in areas staffed with lifeguards and/or appropriate supervision. If water does get inhaled watch the child or adult to look for any of the above symptoms. If concerned seek medical help immediately.

 

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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.