How to spot symptoms of dry and delayed drowning


Drowning_child_warningSwallowing even small amount of water into your lungs is serious, children have been known to have died up to 24 hours after getting water into their system. There might be some differentiation between ‘dry’ and ‘delayed’ drowning, but the symptoms are in both cases tiredness, coughing, paleness and trouble with breathing, and the prevention measures to keep a close eye on people if these symptoms occur. Read more here and here, via SCAQ

Symptoms and prevention from eHow:

  1. The first step in preventing a dry drowning episode is close observation. Observing the person immediately following the negative incident or accident with water is crucial. Remember, dry drowning need only a small amount of water or liquid, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be from a pool.
  2. Monitor the person’s breathing. Difficulty breathing, painful breathing or shallow breathing are all red flags that may indicate a person is at risk for a dry drowning episode. Count the number of respirations for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Over 20 respirations per minute could be a red flag for dry drowning.
  3. Check for persistent cough, pain in chest and mood or mental status change. Lethargy or increased agitation when lying flat, sweaty skin or color changes such as pale, or blue/grayish color are signs of poorly oxygenated blood. Remember, children can not compensate for very long like adults. They tend to “crash” quickly once these signs are present, so act quickly.
  4. Dry drowning usually occurs within 1 hour and 24 hours after incident.
    * If it is caught early, dry drowning can be treated.
    * Treatment involves supplying oxygen to the lungs.
    * Call 911 or take the child or person immediately to the emergency room if there are signs or symptoms indicating risk of a dry drowning episode.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Featured photo by Serge Melki

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)


  1. Also, be aware that treatment for drowning in chlorinated pool water versus sea water may require different medical response.

    • There is no such thing as secondary drowning, near-drowning or dry drowning. These terms we made obsolete over 10 years ago and are not recognised by the World Health Organisation, International Lifesaving Federation or International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (from which all CPR guidelines are developed). Drowning is a process, and as such it can only occur when the victim is submerged (under) or immersed (in) in water (or some other liquid). Once the victim is removed from the water, the drowning process is OVER! Whilst all survivors of drowning need to be assessed by a doctor, to suggest that they can drown “again” is both misleading and inaccurate. It is true that patients can develop complications post-drowning, but these complications are called what they are eg. Pneumonia – not “dressed up” in an invented term such a dry or secondary drowning. If you would like to read a simple explanation of the correct drowning terminology, and why we don’t use words like dry drowning anymore, then please follow this link:

      • Hey you f****** idiot guess what? My nephew just passed away at 8 months old from what the doctors titled dry drown. He inhaled food into his lungs and then was unable to breathe after that, and then you went to cardiac arrest.. I’m not going to go into the rest, but there is such thing as dry drowning, so stop misinforming people!!! And they’re not drowning twice if there’s water still in there and no one knows get your facts straight!!

      • Who cares what it’s called? The fact is that parents need to know that if their child shows the above symptoms they need to get to the hospital especially if they were in the pool earlier. They can call it space monkey drowning for all I care.

      • Actually, you didn’t read the article you cited. It says that the terms wet and dry drowning are redundant because both involve being wet and that drowning is a process. They actually just call both types fatal drowning.

        I agree with the other poster though, call it what you like, everyone should know the symptoms.

      • Oh, for Pete’s sake. This is why it’s painful to read the comment’s section of articles. You’ve got a bunch of critics going around looking for PETTY things to criticize.

    • Agreed. Additionally, high or poorly regulated chlorine (or bromine) levels, along with pH imbalance may complicate the issue. What would be an interesting study (which I now propose) would be to statistically analyze the difference, if any, between victims with/or without, known history of ASTHMA, in TREATED pool water.

  2. Sorry! I left something out which, in fairness to you should be said… YOU are not alone, in fact, YOU (probably) represent the majority.

    • Thank you!! I was started to freak out because my one year old has 24 respirations per minute…

  3. A study of drowning victims with history of asthma could be useful to encourage better management of the condition allowing safer participation in water sports. Elite swimming competitors with exercise induced asthma are not uncommon and have obviously learned to overcome their limitations.

  4. Pingback: What Is Dry Drowning? - The ZocDoc Blog

  5. Pingback: Safety in and Around Your Swimming Pool

  6. Pingback: What Is Dry Drowning? | roison apple

  7. Thanks for the interesting article – for anyone working (or playing!) in and around pools knowing about this kind of “hidden danger” is really important.

  8. There has to be more symptoms for dry drowning. Everyone has tiredness and fatigue after swimming. We went swimming yesterday, my daughter is coughing, had a low grade temp of 100. She may have been somewhat pale this morning, and has complained of dizziness. However shes mot tired, not short of breath, no chest pain…and didnt have any trouble in the water yesterday…i had the school nurse listen to her lubgs with a stethescope, she said lungs sounded clear.. but without a chest x-ray, its hard to know for sure. So how the heck does a parent know wether to go to e.r. or not?

  9. I always had difficulty breathing during and after swimming (I understand its not related directly to this article but to HOLLI’s comment re her daughter. I was like that for years and it was caused by a combination of asthma so the chlorine would have an effect and also un diagnosed anemia – possibly because of paleness and if it happens regularly make sure she’s not iron deficient, all the best x

  10. I have had this so called drowning episodes for years. I have said many times they are going to find me dead from drowning and I was not swimming I was sipping on water and the drowning starts. I told my doc about this years ago and I don’t think he understood it. I have found out through my episodes what to do.
    My son was 2 years old when I first experienced his so called dry drowning. He was gasping for air and I did not know what to do. Grabbed him up sat him on my hip and picked my keys up yelled to my husband lets go to emergency hospital. When I took off running with him on my hip by the time I got to the car. He took a breath. You are saying where is this going. I have had many of these episodes within the past 20 yrs. Sometimes when I am sleeping and I wake up drowning on acid reflux. When this happens I keep as calm as I can and start jumping and if I still cannot breath I have to make myself vomit.
    I remember when my son at 2 had this and I stuck my finger down his throat while I was running, and he took a deep breath. Live AND Learn what you can do if it is visable

  11. Wow. Just wow. Some of the comments here are just ridiculous. Let’s make very simple: The non-medical term “dry drowning” refers to the complications that can occur after a person is no longer in the water, hence, DRY drowning. However, the guy above is correct: It’s all part of the original drowning event and not a new, or second drowning. To the lady who lost a child, I’m very sorry for your loss.

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