Water Safety:: Three Different Types of Drowning Explained


I’m about to get uncomfortable and share a story that I never thought I would tell anyone about.

I remember when my oldest was right around 10 months old. We had a pool, I had the cutest and teeniest little swim suit for my little baby girl, and I was ready to take her into the water. I lathered baby girl with sunscreen and put a swim hat on her. I couldn’t let her precious skin burn!

I eased her into the surprisingly warm water until we were both comfortable in the pool. We didn’t have a fancy baby-floaty-thingy or full body bathing suit flotation device to hook her up in, so I plopped baby girl on a floating lounge chair.

I held her with one hand and scooted the lounge chair around with the other. She splashed her feet in the bit of water that got onto the chair and she flailed her arms all over with the excitement of the water! I walked back and forth in the pool with her for what seemed like forever, because we were having a great time. I realized that the pool vacuum was right underfoot, so I took my eyes off baby girl for half a second to make sure I didn’t trip on the vacuum. Bad idea.

The left side of baby girls body from the waist up plopped itself into the water. My hand was still on her, but hanging onto the right side of her body. Not a half second later, I pulled her up and we immediately got out of the pool.

Baby girl only had a look of shock on her face for one moment, where as I almost started dry heaving. I felt like the worst mama on the face of the planet for ever taking my eyes, even for a half second, off my baby girl. I was still extremely shaken when I called my doctor, as I had heard of second hand drowning and wanted to make sure I wasn’t insane for thinking I could have just let that happen. Doctor assured me that everything was ok, but just in case, told me to keep my eye on her in the event I saw anything unusual.


~What brings me the courage to share this with you is that my story isn’t unlike any others out there. Fortunately for me, everything ended up just fine.~


Since it’s Summer, that means theres an increase in water time for many families.

With any time around water, you need to have a family meeting and chat about water safety.

Many know about drowning, but there is little awareness about the three different types.

  1. The obvious, primary drowning. This is when your child struggles to swim and keep their head above water. Without being proficient in swimming, (or not having a flotation device on or having you around to watch them) your child can inhale water into their lungs for an extended amount of time and drown.
  2. Dry drowning. With dry drowning, water does not get inhaled into the lungs. The water that is breathed in can be minimal, causing the vocal cords to close up, shutting off their airways, and making it hard to breathe. This type of “drowning” usually happens immediately after leaving the water.
  3. Secondary drowning is the most uncommonly known type. What is different about secondary drowning is that the inhaled water makes its way to the lungs, builds up, and causes what is called a pulmonary edema. The peculiar part about this is that the effects of secondary drowning may not show up anywhere between 1-24 hours after leaving the water.

The symptoms of dry drowning and secondary drowning are the same:

  • trouble breathing
  • feeling extreme tiredness
  • coughing
  • chest pain


Dry drowning and secondary drowning events are highly unlikely to happen (1-2% of all drowning incidents), but it’s recommended to go see your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms after being in the water with your children. Most likely, the symptoms will improve on their own if you decide to monitor your child, but if they get worse, you must take them to the emergency room.

The most important steps to take to prevent this from happening:

  1. Make sure your kids get proper swimming lessons if you aren’t in the pool with them. Even if they do know how to swim, they could still swallow large amounts of water which can cause these problems.
  2. ALWAYS watch your kids in the pool, at the beach, river lake, etc. Don’t take your eyes off them for half a second!
  3. If you have your own pool, make sure it’s properly fenced off.
  4. If your kids can swim by themselves, make sure they swim where there is a lifeguard if you aren’t present.
  5. If you have teens, make sure they understand the risks of drugs and alcohol around water.
  6. Don’t forget that drowning can happen in an inch of water! Make sure to be safe in baths, ponds, inflatable pools, etc.
  7. Monitor them after they get out of the water to look for any signs that might alert you to an emergency.



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