Overview of Dry drowning


When considering prevention measures for dry drowning, it’s important to understand that it may take only a minute or two for death or long-term damage to occur. Constant supervision during the bath or anytime a child is swimming or near water of any depth is imperative.

Preventative measures include:

  • Always ensure that everyone in a boat wears a life jacket at all times.
  • Enroll your children in swim lessons instructed by trained professionals.
  • If your child is near a pool, make sure it is fenced and the gate is kept closed at all times.
  • Never allow children to play near the beach unless supervised by an adult.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Don’t swim at a beach unless a lifeguard is present.
  • Do not walk on icy lakes.
  • Supervise toddlers and small children when they are near any type of body of water, including spas, hot tubs, bathtubs, pools, ponds, and lakes.
Overview of Dry drowning


Anytime a person who’s been exposed to water is coughing, has trouble breathing, or has pale or bluish skin, it’s important to get emergency medical attention. 

Sometimes a very small amount of water is present in the lungs. If a person is rescued before oxygen levels decline, the lungs can absorb small amounts of water without further complications.

If you have been submerged or immersed in water and have minimal symptoms (like coughing), your treatment will involve close observation for several hours.

Lack of oxygen can result in cardiac arrest and organ danage. Emergency treatment will involve starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation if breathing is impaired or if there are signs of low oxygen.

Overview of Dry drowning


Diagnosis of dry drowning can involve medical tests. An O2 saturation test can be used to quickly assess how well a person is breathing. A chest X-Ray can identify water in the lungs.

An X-Ray can also identify pulmonary edema, which is excess fluid in the lungs that can develop due to lung damage.

Overview of Dry drowning

Causes of Dry Drowning in Children

The most common cause of dry drowning in older children is swimming in a swimming pool. When a pool is not gated or fence properly, children may simply jump in.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 4 years, second only to congenital anomalies. It is one of the top three causes of unintentional death in people under 30 years old.

Overview of Dry drowning

Causes of Dry Drowning in Infants

A common cause of dry drowning in infants is being unsupervised during the bath. Drowning can occur within minutes. 

Overview of Dry drowning

Dry Drowning in Adults

The most common places that adults drown are rivers, lakes, or the ocean.

In adults, the risk of drowning increases with:

  • Panicking when swimming
  • Alcohol or drug use before or while in the water
  • Head trauma, such as from diving into shallow water
  • Dangerous situations, like swimming far from shore or in rough water

Medical emergencies while in water can increase the risk of drowning.

Examples include:

  • Seizures
  • Heart emergencies, such as heart attack
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar which can cause confusion or loss of consciousness)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature from cold water)
Overview of Dry drowning


With any type of drowning, liquid submersion or immersion leads to a deficiency of air (and oxygen) reaching the body’s organs. The cause of death in any type of drowning is a lack of oxygen to the brain; this occurs whether or not water fills the lungs.

When water irritates the airways, laryngospasm (a spasm of the vocal cords that prevents water and air from getting to the lungs) can occur. Dry drowning occurs due to laryngospasm.  

Overview of Dry drowning

Symptoms of Dry Drowning

The signs and symptoms of all types of drowning usually occur right away—it’s rare for symptoms to begin more than a few minutes after the event.

Symptoms of dry drowning include:

  • Low energy
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing and/or irregular, fast breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • The appearance of the chest sinking in
  • Pale or bluish skin color
  • Diminished alertness or unusual behavior
  • Coughing that does not resolve within a few minutes

It’s important to seek medical attention right away, particularly if the symptoms worsen or don’t subside quickly.

Overview of Dry drowning

Dry vs, Wet Drowning

All drownings (dry or wet) occur in some type of liquid.

There is water in the lungs with wet drowning, and there isn’t water in the lungs with dry drowning.

Near Drowning

Near drowning occurs when a person is unable to breathe due to being immersed or submerged in liquid and comes close to drowning.

Overview of Dry drowning

Types of Drowning

Drowning is commonly described as “wet drowning,” “dry drowning,” and “near-drowning,” none of which are considered medical terms.

Drowning categories used by the American Heart Association include:

  • Fatal drowning: Dying because of drowning or from complications from drowning
  • Nonfatal drowning with injury: Surviving a drowning incident with some type of injury
  • Nonfatal drowning without injury: Surviving a drowning incident without a resulting injury