Does 'dry drowning' actually exist?

Here's an overview of what dry drowning is said to be and what medical professionals are saying

Summer has arrived.

And with rising temperatures, people are heading to their local beach, lake or pool to cool off.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people die from unintentional drowning every day. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S.

Some researchers say dry drowning is not medically-proven.
Some researchers say dry drowning is not medically-proven. (Photo/Getty Images)

4-year-old boy in Texas died of what his family called "dry drowning." Another 2-year-old boy in Colorado almost died from what was also described as dry drowning. 

However, some researchers say dry drowning is not medically-proven. Here's an overview of what dry drowning is said to be and what medical professionals are saying.

1. What is dry drowning said to be?

Dry drowning, which can also be called secondary drowning, is said to occur after an individual experiences a near-drowning incident. According to USA Today, dry drowning happens when someone inhales water through the mouth or nose and the water enters the lungs. As a result, it's said that the lungs then spasm and fill with fluid.

2. What are the potential symptoms?

Symptoms, according to Purva Grover, medical director of Cleveland Clinic Children's pediatric emergency department, include coughing, vomiting, fever, struggling for breath and mood swings. Grover said affected individuals may start showing symptoms 24 to 48 hours after a near-drowning incident.

3. Does dry drowning actually exist?

In a book, titled "Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine," written by Dr. Paul S. Auerbach, a leading expert on wilderness medicine and chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Wilderness Medicine, it says the actual "existence of dry drowning has not been proven." Furthermore, Dr. Auerbach says "if laryngospasm does occur, it likely relaxes with progresses hypoxemia." Existence of such a reflex, according to Dr. Auerbach, holds "no prognostic or treatment significance." He asserts that the term "dry drowning" should not be used.

4. Why is dry drowning still used as a diagnosis?

According to Dr. Auerbach, dry drowning, wet drowning, active drowning, passive drowning, silent drowning, near-drowning and secondary drowning are all terms widely used by laypersons and some medical professionals. He said it's important to be familiar with them because of this, but a consensus panel at the 2002 World Conference on Drowning and the World Health Organization concluded that all of the above terms should no longer be used in drowning terminology.

5. Regardless of the classification, what's the best way to prevent drownings?

It's important that anyone planning to spend time in or near the water know how to swim. It's equally as vital to know how to rescue someone who's drowning and also the basics of CPR. Not all pools, lakes and beaches have a lifeguard on duty. Designate someone as a "watcher" to keep an eye on those in the water. Make sure your attention is on the water and not on your cellphone or book.

This article, originally published in July 2017, has been updated. 

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