How to spot and prevent dry and secondary drowning

My name is Harshad Daswani, and besides being the founder of The Beach Company - I am also an avid recreational swimmer. Recently, news reports and documented studies by the United Nations & the World Health Organisation raised awareness on drowning as a global health concern. Sadly, a concern that is hugely neglected. I have now spent a lot of time reading & researching what we can do to prevent drowning, not just by learning to swim ourselves and teaching our kids the same, but also by using preventive measures. Sadly, drowning is a silent cause of death, and can even happen post-trauma (secondary/delayed drowning). So, please -

If you're a parent who has kids learning to swim, do read on.

India accounts for ~25% of deaths by drowning. With such numbers of near-deaths and deaths from delayed drownings, the water can feel like a scary place. How do you differentiate between drowning & secondary-drowning? Should you rush to the emergency room every time your child swallows water? Probably not!

"Kids swallow water all the time and that is not something that is going to cause an aspiration event," says Harshad Daswani, founder of The Beach Company. "When I get concerned is when there is a submersion event for longer than 30 seconds."

However - a hidden and less known form of drowning is secondary drowning and dry drowning. Although secondary and dry drowning represent a small fraction of all drowning deaths, it needs to be recognised and terated with severity

Daswani recommends that parents seek help for their children after a water incident if they:

Throw up
Cough persistently
Struggle to breathe
Act lethargic

Dry drowning

Dry drowning occurs when people inhale water and the vocal cords spasm and close, trapping the water in the mouth or nose, which causes asphyxiation. When this happens people look like they are choking and turn blue.

Secondary drowning

People who experience secondary drowning also inhale water but it gets into the lungs. At first, it might not be apparent and people experiencing this often worsen over time. Parents will notice rapid, labored breathing over 24 hours. “They have significant coughing that persists and it seems to be fairly fast breathing or breathing that looks labored,” adds Daswani. They’ll also seem lethargic. “A child that seemed OK and was in the water and active, and suddenly is sleepy, can be a symptom that they are having trouble getting oxygen”

How to keep kids safe in water

One way to prevent drowning is by teaching children how to swim. Parents should try & learn CPR, encourage their children to wear life vests and only swim in safe areas / shallow zones. Having good supervision, such as a designated watcher (much like you have a designated driver), can make sure that a child doesn’t dip below the water.

"Drowning is a not a loud noisy event. It is kids slipping below the surface," warns Daswani. "You can treat infection, you CANNOT treat lack of oxygen to the brain ... watch your kids at all times. Please."


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