What parents need to watch out for to prevent ‘dry drowning’

CLEVELAND -- Doctors and a grieving family are giving warnings about the dangers of “dry” and “delayed drowning” after a preschooler died in Harris County, Texas.

Four-year-old Frankie Delgado died suddenly, within several days of swimming with his family in the Texas City Dike.

“Out of nowhere he woke up and he said ‘ah’ and he took his last breath," said the boy's father, Frank Delgado Jr.

Doctors told the Delgados that Frankie died from “dry drowning.” It was something they’d never heard of before that day.

They thought their son had a simple stomach bug, but he had apparently inhaled water while swimming in the levee.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “injury” drowning is the second-leading cause of death among children.

About 1 percent to 2 percent of those cases are caused by “dry and delayed” drowning.

Although very rare, it can happen in any body of water -- even the bathtub.

Dr. Christine Alexander, chairwoman of family medicine at MetroHealth System in Cleveland, told FOX8 that parents need to know and recognize the symptoms because once they start, the clock is ticking.

The condition manifests in two ways. Alexander said the first occurs when a child is under water and gets water in the back of their throat.

“It happens in the voice box area and it starts to vibrate or really spasm,“ Alexander said. “And it’s that spasming that leads to the problem with breathing.”

The child might begin coughing and/or immediately struggling to breathe.

“The fluid gets down into the lungs and causes a chemical reaction,” said Alexander. “You’ll notice when they’re trying to breath you can see their rib cage in between taking breaths.”

However, the Delgados said Frankie didn’t exhibit any symptoms until later at home when he started vomiting and had diarrhea.

Other signs include chest pain, extreme fatigue and irritability.

If a child is experiencing any of those symptoms Alexander suggests calling a health care provider or taking the child to the emergency room or urgent care where they can quickly determine whether it’s a virus or dry drowning.

Victims can fully recover quickly with oxygen and other treatments.

However, without it, they most certainly could die, so Alexander said it’s always better to error on the side of caution.

“You have to trust your parental instinct and say this isn’t normal,” Alexander said.

The doctor said one of the most important keys to prevention is getting children swimming lessons because the better they are in the water, the less likely they are to swallow or inhale water.