Secondary drowning in children: When parents need to call 911

Outdoor pool, quarry lake, sea or paddling pool – in summer, bathing and playing with water is part of it. However, water is always a risk, especially for young children. drowning accidents It is the second leading cause of accidental death in children. According to the German Life Saving Association (DLRG), 18 preschool children and five primary school children died in water in 2021. Therefore, children who could not yet swim should not be left without care near water, even if it is low very.

The phenomenon that worries parents is the so-called secondary drowning. An accident in which children do not drown in the water but die hours after the swimming accident because they got water in their lungs. After such isolated cases have been reported in the media in recent years, anxious parents fear that their child may die in their sleep, for example, because they suffocated from the water while bathing in the lake during the day.

However, medical professionals have discontinued the use of the term “secondary drowning” because it is inaccurate. Rick Schaefer, DLRG’s deputy federal physician, explains in an interview with FOCUS Online what the phenomenon is all about and when parents should call 911.

Internet focus: Mr. Schaeffer, what is meant by the term “secondary drowning”?

Rick Schaefer: The term is no longer used in this way – neither scientifically nor professionally, because it is misleading. The real problem with drowning is the lack of oxygen.

Can you describe a typical case?

shepherd: It can happen if a person has a drowning accident, and at first manages to get out of the water or is rescued, but unnoticed to breathe in the water – he did not swallow it, but inhaled it – then the breathing can worsen over the next half hour. The patient may then have bubbling sounds and worsening of shortness of breath. In such a situation, you should immediately make an emergency call (112).

Could something like that also happen if there wasn’t an actual accident, but a child suffocated badly in the water, for example?

shepherd: Usually we have a reflex that ensures that when the fluid enters the pharynx, it does not go to the lungs, but to the esophagus. This is the swallowing reflex. It is more pronounced in children than in adults.

And if a child really submerges his head under water?

shepherd: When people, including children, fall under water, they instinctively hold their breath. If it is not possible to keep your head, mouth, and nose above the surface of the water, the urge to breathe increases until you inhale, regardless of whether it is above or under the water. Then water can enter the respiratory tract and drowning occurs, which is nothing more than suffocation in a liquid medium.

In what situations should parents pay special attention?

shepherd: If the children are clear after bathing, behave differently than usual, seem apathetic, if they have difficulty breathing, cough constantly or cough foam – make an emergency call, or at least consult a doctor immediately.

For this reason, people who have had a drowning accident are also hospitalized for at least 24 hours, at least for observation.

What other tips do you give parents about water?

shepherd: It is very important that children learn to swim as early as possible. From the age of four or five, kids can actually learn to swim if the pool has a pool low enough that kids can still stand there. As a rule, swimming courses for beginners start from the age of six at the most.

It is important for parents to take care of this and take their children to swimming lessons. Due to the pandemic, closing of swimming pools and cancellation of classes, the number of non-swimmers has increased dramatically. Of course, this worries us greatly.

Furthermore, children should never be allowed to bathe without supervision! Also consider potential sources of danger such as ponds, ponds, and puddles in the garden. Children cannot yet assess the risks. They usually don’t stand a chance if they get caught there unsupervised!

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