Dry Drowning Doesn’t Exist

Dry Drowning does not exist

Death is in itself a tragic occurrence, but even more so when it is a child’s caused by drowning. 

Drowning is preventable, but this requires education and knowledge about what it is, how it happens, and the strategies needed to avoid such sad incidents from taking place, strategies such as layers of protection. Unfortunately, there is significant misinformation in the media and the general public about drowning terms. Misnomers such as “dry drowning” (also known as “secondary drowning”) are misleading and inaccurate. 

Furthermore, we must work to eradicate the use of these misnomers because dry drowning does not exist. 

Drowning Is A Leading Cause Of Injury Death

According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. It is also a common cause of pediatric death. 

CDC data recently published confirms “that there are around 4,000 unintentional drowning deaths and another 8,000 nonfatal drownings that require treatment in an emergency department every year in the United States (…) Drowning is one of the top three leading causes of unintentional injury death among persons aged ≤29 years and more children aged 1–4 years die from drowning than from any other cause, except birth defects.”

What is Drowning?

The World Health Organization has defined drowning as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in liquid.” 

Drowning has only three subtypes: 

  • Fatal drowning: a drowning incident followed by death. 
  • Nonfatal drowning with injury: the drowning victim has sustained injuries or complications that have not proven fatal.
  • Nonfatal drowning without injury: the drowning victim endured a drowning incident that did not cause injury or death.

These terms were all agreed upon by organizations that have a vested interest in water safety and drowning prevention, such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Heart Association, and the American Red Cross in 2002 at the World Congress on Drowning. 

Drowning Is Never Dry

Drowning is, therefore, an event that requires water. Put plainly, drowning cannot occur without exposure to liquid and the subsequent and immediate respiratory problem that this situation brings. Without water, there cannot be a drowning incident because drowning is never dry.

For a drowning event to occur, the child or adult must have been submerged in water. Drowning cannot happen by swallowing water or simply playing with it.  

“Dry drowning” is not an approved medical term.  It has been coined and used by the media to describe incidents when the lungs of drowning victims have appeared to contain no water, which could have been the result of laryngospasm. This involuntary reaction causes the body to forcefully close its airways so water or liquid cannot enter the lungs.

Dry drowning or secondary drowning are terms coined by the media and considered misnomers by the medical community and its organizations. These same organizations have been quite vocal about the need to cease the use of such terms that create fear and confusion in the public and serve no educational or medical purpose at all.

How Can Drowning Be Prevented?

The dangers of drowning are genuine. Parents, caregivers, pool owners, and members of the aquatic community must all be well aware that prevention is an essential tool we have against drowning.

Drowning can be prevented by implementing layers of protection wherever possible and needed. You can begin with the following:

  • Installing four-sided fences around your pool with self-closing hinges and latches. 
  • Never take your eyes off your kids, not for a second. It only takes 30 seconds for a child to drown. Children are naturally curious and drawn to water, making supervision a much-needed layer of protection.
  • Make sure your family members receive water safety education to become water competent.
  • Wear a USCG-approved life jacket when needed.
  • Learn CPR and proper rescue procedures for drowning incidents.







2 replies
  1. Richard Pass
    Richard Pass says:

    Save A Little Life, inc. is an educationally based company that focuses on expectant, recently delivered parents and those with toddlers & small children. Our Pediatric CPR & Family Safety course begins with a realistic age-related risk assessment for families & care providers. Given that drowning is the most likely cause of accidental death in the 1-4 year age group we emphasize drowning prevention early and often in our course. The WHO’s relatively recent re-definition of drowning has been helpful in this effort. In addition, it is necessary to take on the images of what drowning looks or sounds like when it actually occurs. This means that many drowning victims succumb quickly and without much splashing or screaming and that the drowning child will likely demonstrate little if any signs of trouble. Close supervision of those in or near the water is essential as is the need to learn, practice and re-learn CPR for all ages.

    Over the years there have been media celebrities who have fostered the idea of “dry drowning” as a legitimate concern for parents. When this comes up in the Q & A segment we use it as an opportunity to educate parents that “real” drowning should be their main concern and we explain why. Having to counter misinformation in the media or otherwise remains a constant but it also allows us to use these moments to clarify the issue.

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