How to protect your child from secondary drowning

(WTNH) — Drowning is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five. That’s submersion drowning, but there’s another type of drowning that poses a very real danger: secondary drowning.

“Kids are in the water, potentially have no symptoms, and then later on start with coughing, respiratory distress, difficulty breathing,” said Dr. Marc Auerbach from Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

What’s scary as a parent is that your child may seem fine after falling into a pool or lake, but hours later, the water they inhaled can build up in their lungs, causing them to almost drown in their own fluid. It can happen to a child of any age and can cause serious injury and even death.

“The insult or the injury is really having something happen to the lungs,” Dr. Auerbach said. “Then later on, as oxygen is not getting delivered to the organs, you’re going to have a change in activity.”

Dena Blum-Rothman is a certified infant survival instructor. She teaches babies as young as seven-months how to control their breathing, so they don’t take in water.

“One of the first things I teach my babies, my students of any age, is breath control,” Blum-Rothman said. “It’s the number one most important thing. Our program is unique because it’s not just about swimming, it’s about survival.”

It can be tough to watch, but it is effective. After a 10-minute swim class four times a week for four weeks, the babies in her swim class know how to save themselves.

“It only took her less than a week to realize she has to flip up and go to the air, and now it’s amazing,” parent Alison Hudyma said. “I love it because I know if something were to happen she’d be ok, she could figure it out.”

Blum-Rothman explained why her lessons are such short sessions.

“My lessons are very very short, so if for whatever reason, and it pretty much never happens, but if a child takes a couple of sips it’s only 10 minutes. We’re not going to have any risks of water intoxication.”

If your child does fall in and comes up coughing up water, doctors say to monitor them over the next eight hours. Look out for:

  • Change in child’s activity
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lips turning blue
  • Acting different (more lethargic)

If your child experiences any of these, call your doctor.

“As with any rare thing as a parent, using your paternal or maternal instinct to say ‘you know what, things are kind of weird; the baby fell into the hot tub, and now we’re an hour or two later something’s not right,’ and the first symptoms would typically be respiratory distress or difficulty breathing,” said Dr. Auerbach.

Secondary drowning can happen to anyone, but kids are most at risk because their lungs are so small. It’s important to note that no amount of training will ever take the place of proper supervision around the water. The number one way to protect against drowning is to never take your eyes off your child around any body of water.

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