Parents know to watch their children when they’re in the water, but there are life-threatening signs to look for after they’ve taken them out as well.
“A child could die 24 hours later after they have been in the water,” said Barbara Byers of Canada’s Lifesaving Society.
“The ones you have to keep an eye on,” she added, are kids who go under, inhaling and coughing up water in the process.
“This can happen in a bathtub as well if the child goes face down in the water.”
That water can irritate the lungs, which may cause more fluid build-up. If too much liquid accumulates, the lungs may run out of room for air.
It used to be called dry or secondary drowning, and some people still call it that. But since 2005, the World Health Organization just calls it drowning which it says can either be fatal or non-fatal.
In one well-documented case in 2008, a 10-year-old South Carolina boy died in his home a couple hours after a trip to the pool, where it’s believed he got water into his lungs.
He soiled himself, was taken home and given a bath, and told his mom he was really tired. So she let him take a nap. When she went to check on him, he had died in his sleep.
“I’ve never known a child could walk around, talk, speak and their lungs be filled with water,” the boy’s mother, Cassandra Jackson, told NBC News then.
“It’s a very rare occurrence,” Byers admits. “In 95 per cent of cases they’re fine.”
She believes children under 10, but primarily those under five, are most at-risk.
Parents need to watch out for the following signs:
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme (and unusual) tiredness
- Abnormal behaviour
- Persistent coughing
- Chest discomfort
What parents should do
Prevention is paramount.
You should never leave children unattended in the water.
“Don’t assume because a child can swim they need less supervision. Things can happen,” said Shelley Dalke, director of Swimming and Water Safety for the Canadian Red Cross.
In a pool, something can startle them, sending them into panic mode and affecting their swimming ability.
In open water, “waves and currents can change a perfectly wonderful experience into a terrorizing experience in a matter of seconds,” Dalke added.
“Keep young children within arm’s reach,” Byers urges parents. “Watch them all the time and don’t be distracted.”
“Drowning is silent. When fluid gets in the respiratory area, they can’t scream, they can’t shout.”
Don’t be afraid to get medical help.
If they exhibit any of the symptoms above or you’re just concerned, take them to a doctor.
“Emergency rooms never blame parents for bringing children in in a situation like this,” Byers said.
A doctor will listen for water in the lungs, order a chest X-Ray and may need to insert a breathing tube as they get the water out.
You can find more information on drowning deaths in Canada here.