Parents, Please Shut Up About Secondary Drowning Already
It’s summertime, so that means fun in the sun and lounging at the pool with your kids, right? Wrong. If you’ve ever read a parenting website with sensationalist headlines (I certainly have been guilty of writing them before), then you know that summertime is the perfect time to FREAK THE FUCK OUT and worry about completely asinine things that could kill your children.
Because of all of the parenting sites that I scoured while I was an anxious pregnant woman, I now have a borderline irrational fear of children drowning. I wasn’t even looking for these articles on purpose. That’s the beauty of the Internet. I would be reading a random article about what to expect in your third trimester, and all of a sudden I would click on a link to find VERY IMPORTANT information on the dangers of SIDS, infant drowning, choking, babies getting trapped in cribs, etc.
I have to qualify by saying that I think it is important to bring awareness to all of these dangers. If, God forbid, my child choked to death, I would be irate if I was never given the educational tools to prevent it. But parental education that borders on hysteria has gotten a little much.
The perfect example is in the many, many news articles that have circulated on my Facebook newsfeed on secondary drowning. What this basically means is that there was one very unfortunate case in 2008 where a 10-year-old boy died hours after swallowing water in the pool. Leading up to the tragic event, the boy exhibited some warning signs, like defecating in his pants and showing signs of extreme fatigue.
I can’t even tell you how sad this story makes me if I think about it long enough. But it has become the “poster story” for why you should watch your kids like hawks every second that they are near water, as well as for hours and even days after they get out of the pool. While I agree that it is important to practice water safety with kids at all times, this recommendation basically means that you will stare at your kids while they sleep all summer long if they spend any significant amount of time in a pool.
Thank God that I dug up this pediatrician’s blog in response to the dry drowning or secondary drowning issue of 2008 that is still scaring parents today:
Most likely Johnny did swallow some water while he played in the pool and some of the water made it into his lungs (which then technically is not a “dry drowning” even though the death occured out-of-water). This water then led to a loss of pulmonary function after the “loss or inactivation of surfactant” of the alveoli in the lungs. Surfactant is an amphiphilic compound which reduces the surface tension of your lungs allowing you to breathe. Basically, it helps your lungs to expand easily allowing oxygen to enter. The water that made it into Johnny’s lung disrupted the ability of his natural surfactant and therefore as he napped, he was unable to breathe properly leading to his unfortunate demise.
First, most drownings do not occur this insidiously. Rather, the majority of drownings happen where it is clear that the child has been submerged under water. In this sense, things can be done to avoid the obvious drowning: close supervision, fences/covers/alarms around unused pools, CPR training, etc.
Second, even in a case such as Johnny’s, there will be some warning signs: accidental ingestion of water, forceful coughing >1 minute right after coming out of the water, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue and changes in behavior. If your child clearly is having an excessive amount of coughing and difficulty breathing right after swimming, it would be evident to the observant mother.
Finally, there is more risk in driving your child to the local movie theater than there is in monitored water play.
The only reason that I am playing MythBusters with this secondary drowning issue is because it scares the shit out of me. After spending an afternoon in a kiddie pool with my husband and kids, I spent hours googling the topic. I’m also still freaked out about dozens of child drowning hazards around the house that my kids have probably grown out of, like possibly, accidentally leaving water in the bath or leaving the toilet seat up.
I am heartbroken for any mother whose child was killed in the rare instance of secondary drowning. I really have thought of this often. But I’m also sad for all of us mothers who are living in fear all the time. I’m sick of being scared, I’m sick of googling, and I’m sick of the fact that I can’t relax around my kids. This secondary drowning rumor needs to stop right now. Education is beneficial, media hype is not.