After a child from Texas died from what his doctors called "dry drowning," another child from Colorado was saved after his parents saw the warning signs. What exactly does "dry drowning" and "secondary drowning" mean and why do some doctors shy away from using the terms?

'Dry Drowning' Incidences

Days after a family swimming trip on June 2, 4-year-old Frankie Delgado III passed away due to "dry drowning." What bothered many about Frankie's death was that aside from the fact that he was merely swimming in knee-deep water, his death occurred after being away from the water — when he should have been safe from drowning perils.

His case, however, saved another young boy from Colorado when the child experienced symptoms similar to Frankie's a few hours after swimming. His parents immediately rushed him to the hospital where they found out that his lungs had a significant amount of fluid.

Because of their precautionary measures, the 2-year-old child's life was saved.

'Dry Drowning' And 'Secondary Drowning'

Dry drowning and secondary drowning are terms used to define atypical drowning incidences that are very rare. Though sometimes confused to be interchangeable terms, dry drowning and secondary drowning are actually two different occurrences with just one similarity between them: both can occur some time after an individual has left the water.

In the case of Frankie, what doctors said he experienced is dry drowning, which occurs when an individual's airways spasm and close off due to a severe reaction to water reaching the larynx. When the airway is blocked, blood instead absorbs the air from the air sacs which eventually shrink due to lack of air. When that happens, the lungs get filled with blood, fluids, and mucus.

Symptoms to watch out for are said to include coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, a change in color of lips or fingertips, and feeling tired. Children may also exhibit either irritability or a sudden drop in energy levels that could possibly be caused by the brain not getting enough oxygen.

On the other hand, secondary drowning happens when water enters the lungs and washes out the surfactant which allows the organ to absorb oxygen. When the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange fails to properly function, the lungs get filled up with fluids.

Symptoms of secondary drowning are similar to those of dry drowning but usually begin to be apparent within 24 hours.

Cases of dry drowning and secondary drowning, especially those that result in death, are said to be very rare. There is no specific treatment for cases of dry and secondary drowning, but some may need to be placed on oxygen for a time until the lungs can function normally again.

As always, prevention the key to avoiding these incidences, which is why supervising and observing children while they are swimming and even hours after swimming is the best way to prevent tragedies.

'Dry Drowning' And 'Secondary Drowning' Are Not Medical Terms

Although parents are being warned about dry drowning and secondary drowning, the terms aren't actually real medical terms. In fact, according to a bulletin by the World Health Organization (WHO), the terms "dry," "passive," "wet," "silent," "active," and "secondary" drowning are not to be used to describe a drowning victim. This is why some medical practitioners shy away from using such terms.

Generally speaking, WHO defines drowning as "the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid."

Despite this generalized distinction, using the terms "dry" and "secondary" drowning seems to be an effective way of making parents aware of the possible dangers that can occur even after their children are out of the water.

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