Doctors warn against unseen dangers of 'secondary' drowning - WNEM TV 5

Doctors warn against unseen dangers of 'secondary' drowning

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As kids all across Middle Tennessee dive into summer break at pools and lakes, experts say beware that life jackets and flotation devices, while important, still may not protect them from every danger.

Lifeguards kept a watchful eye for any signs of distress Monday at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in west Nashville. They also looked for those putting themselves at risk for a rare but potentially deadly occurrence called "dry" or "secondary drowning."

"It's a type of drowning that can occur several hours after an event," said GJCC aquatics director Yvonne Hall.

Secondary drowning happens when someone inhales water into their lungs instead of swallowing it into the stomach.

Hall trains her lifeguards to safeguard against it.

"We have rules against breath-holding. We have rules against the kids inhaling water and spouting it out, kind of like horseplay," Hall said.

Secondary drowning only takes a couple of inches of water depth, and it could happen anywhere, including a pool, a lake or even a bath tub.

"As a physician it's worrisome," said Dr. Jeff Greenlee, with the emergency medicine department at Tri-Star Summit Hospital.

The concern, Greenlee says, is by the time you realize your child is in trouble, it could already be too late.

He urges parents to watch their kids closely.

"Initially, they may have no symptoms whatsoever. The child may look completely normal. In time - within an hour or a day - they may show difficulty breathing, different coloration, coughing up material. That's when you bring them in right away," Greenlee said.

Whenever Donna Smith takes her 3-year-old daughter to the pool, she always packs a floatation device.

"It's very scary to think that you can keep an eye on your child, and it just takes a few seconds for them to go under the water and that they could be sick and possible die from that," Smith said.

After hearing about secondary drowning, Smith watches her daughter, Kendall, even closer and hopes other parents will do the same.

"When we leave the pool, just make sure she's the way she normally is: she's not feeling bad, she's not tired, she just seems normal," Smith said.

Other signs of secondary drowning include difficulty breathing, sudden mood swings and extreme fatigue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the roughly 3,600 drowning deaths in 2005, 10 to 15 percent of those were due to secondary drowning.

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