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Pediatrician’s Viral TikTok Debunks Dry Drowning Myths

"Prevention of water accidents, not intensive observation of a child who looks well after a little sputtering, deserves the real attention," notes Cedars-Sinai pediatrician Stephen Robert.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published May 25, 2023
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Image: Lana-Fotini | Shutterstock

As summer kicks into full swing, your social media feeds and doctor’s office visit are likely filled with water safety warnings. While these safety reminders are rightfully warranted—drownings remain the leading cause of accidental death in kids under 4 years old—lately, a worrisome summer safety buzzword has reemerged—“dry drowning.”

Dry drowning has invaded the media feeds of parents everywhere. Stories of children falling ill or dying days after playing in the pool have proliferated, filling parents with fear that their seemingly perfectly okay-looking child could experience a medical emergency out of nowhere.

Amid the hysteria, Meghan Martin — a Florida pediatric ER doctor also known as @Beachgem10 on TikTok — took to the platform to tell parents the truth. “Dry drowning is not real. It’s a myth that has been propagated by the media since 2017,” they said. “The story was of a four-year-old boy in Texas who died a week after playing in water that was about knee-high. It has been subsequently documented that he actually died of an unrelated heart condition.”

Martin goes on to explain that the vast majority of the time that someone has a “significant submersion injury” the water will go into their lungs and when they come back up, they will have coughing, gasping, shortness of breath and the symptoms will be immediate.

Martin clarifies that “there are rare cases when the initial symptoms are mild but then they get worse 6-8 hours later.” But even then, these cases don’t happen when your child just puts their face in the water and comes back up or is splashing around in the pool. “These are significant events where there is a fairly large amount of water that is inhaled,” they continued.

If you are worried that your child has had a “significant event,” Martin says parents can watch out for symptoms including fast breathing, retractions, shortness of breath, vomiting and a change in mental state. If you observe any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to take your child to the doctor.

Medical organizations like the American Medical Association and hospitals like Cedars-Sinai confirm that so-called, “dry drowning” happens after a significant water event, with prominent observable symptoms within minutes to hours after the event. I.e., this simply isn’t something that could sneak up on parents days after pool time.

“…Risk of death from this type of submersion injury in the absence of loss of consciousness at the scene would be exceedingly low compared with death from an actual, real-time drowning—so prevention of water accidents, not intensive observation of a child who looks well after a little sputtering, deserves the real attention," notes Cedars-Sinai’s associate director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Stephen Robert, MD.

Keep your kids safe this summer by brushing up on your water safety knowledge. Review these five ways to keep your little one safe around water.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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