Know the facts about ‘dry drowning’

Last summer, there were many reports in the news and on social media about “dry drowning” – where individuals, particularly children, drowned days or weeks after swimming.

While devastating to the families and communities affected, Dr. Michael Boniface, an emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic, says dry drowning is a misnomer.

“Drowning does not happen days to a week after being in water. There are no medically accepted conditions known as ‘near-drowning,’ ‘dry drowning’ and ‘secondary drowning,’” says Dr. Boniface, highlighting a recent report from the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Boniface are in the downloads.

Drowning remains a leading cause of unintentional death for people of all ages – especially for children under 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, there are 3,500 fatalities annually from drowning – or about ten people a day who die from drowning, says Dr. Boniface.

“Drowning occurs when you can’t get oxygen into your lungs because you are in or below water," says Dr. Boniface, noting there are two primary causes for drowning.

"When people experience drowning events, typically one of two things occur. There will be reflexes of panic, agitation and air hunger. And, when you can’t avoid taking a breath under water, fluid will rush into the lungs. This is what we see in about half of the cases,” he says.

The other type of drowning occurs when the voice box closes off. Known as a laryngospasm, “it’s a reflex that happens to prevent fluid from getting into the lungs. This could happen if are below water, holding your breath to the point where you pass out.”


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