Secondary drowning: I didn’t know

In a recent blog post, I mentioned being in nursing for over 20 years and assuming everybody knew stuff about illnesses. Well, here’s my turn to gorge on humble pie. As a former pediatric nurse, lifetime pool owner and safety drill sergeant around any and all types of water (including bathtubs) I am ashamed to say that, until I read this news report last week, I knew nothing about a phenomenon called secondary drowning.

I’m not into fear mongering. It’s not how I roll. But when I happen upon information that strikes me as something parents probably don’t know about and figure that it couldn’t hurt to just be aware of it, I share it with you.

This week is Safe Kids Week and given this year’s theme of safe swimming, safe splashing, safe kids I thought it appropriate to touch on something that, although rare, is a good to know item for parents of young kids like you and me.

Here’s what I was glad to learn:

  • Any child who has experienced a near-drowning incident should be seen by a doctor.
  • Dry drowning and secondary drowning are different but both are very serious and require immediate medical attention. Both are described beautifully in this link; have a quick read.
  • Signs and symptoms of these conditions tend to emerge in the hours after the water incident and include:
    • Trouble breathing
    • Chest pain
    • Cough
    • Sudden changes in behaviour
    • Extreme fatigue

As a parent and pool owner, what struck me was how difficult it might be to identify these signs and symptoms in little ones who may be a tad out-of-sorts just anyway after a long day in the pool.

As not to be a helicopter parent and assess my kids head-to-toe 24/7, the way I’m using this new-found information is to be aware of the potential for this rare condition after water play that involves a struggle (wherein water was inhaled) or a near-drowning incident.

In my life, that means simply knowing the signs and symptoms and the urgent nature of this medical condition and keeping an extra eye out after a day in the pool that involved what we call the big, ugly cough – you know, the one that sounds a lot like vomiting and makes everyone in the yard fall silent and the neighbours peer over the fence? Yeah – that one.

Anyway – no fear mongering intended; just good to know. Splash away!

Share your thoughts with us:

  • Leave us a comment below
  • Tweet with us @haltonparents
  • Email us at
  • Call the HaltonParents line for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About this blogger:

Paula D’Orazio RN is a public health nurse with the Early Years Health Program at the Halton Region Health Department.  Wanna know more about her?  Read her blogs! She’ll tell ya!  (She kinda likes to talk.)

This entry was posted in Babies, Children & Tweens, Keeping Your Baby Safe, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Keeping Your Toddler & Preschooler Safe, Parenting, Teens, Toddlers & Preschoolers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s