Sometime in June 2017, a 4-year old boy from Texas died a week after reportedly aspirating water. This case has been named “dry drowning,” or “secondary” or “delayed” drowning by media. This is a condition when a child seems to be okay even after taking in water while swimming but then after a few hours or days later dies suddenly.

what is dry drowning

This is an extremely dreadful incident and especially terrifying for parents. So, it's also important to get educated on the realities of dry drowning. Don’t let fear mongering from media or Facebook posts frighten you so much that you keep your little ones from swimming for the rest of their lives.


Pediatrician Katherine Hensley emphasizes: “Your child is not going to go swimming, swallow some water, have no issues in the water whatsoever, and then suddenly die without warning 4 days later from “dry drowning”.” She differentiates swallowing and aspirating: “Swallowed water goes into the esophagus and down through the digestive tract…Aspiration is when the water goes into the trachea and down into the lungs.” This means that when aspiration happens, there are the telltale signs to watch out for: You will see the child is in pain after they came out (or pulled out) of the water. You will deliberately know your child is NOT ok because of coughing, rapid shallow breathing and nostril flaring. Your child may even get extremely sleepy or woozy, become forgetful and throw up.

What to do?

If you child was pulled from the water, seek continuous medical attention even if they seem to be okay.

If the symptoms linger even after 24 hours, “take your kid to ER, not to his/her pediatrician. He/she needs a chest X-ray, an IV, and be admitted for observation”, says Dr. Raymond Pitetti, associate medical director of the emergency department at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.


As parents, it is important to closely monitor your kids when swimming. Also, keep in mind that drowning can happen in any kinds of water – bathtubs, toilet bowls or plastic basins or pools. Don’t get complacent and remember water safety at all times.