A phenomenon known as dry drowning has parents on high alert even after what appear to be minor water incidents. "Dry drowning scares me," says Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, pediatric hospitalist with St. Louis Children's Hospital. "The kids can look fine, but sometime in the next 24 hours their lungs start a massive inflammatory reaction to the inhaled water. Sometimes they need a ventilator. "
As parents, how can we be sure if an incident is, indeed, just a minor hiccup, or something more life-threatening? If any of the following is true, doctors recommend a trip to the ER:
- Coughing. Does your child continue to cough periodically, even hours after the incident? This could be a sign of decreased oxygen levels.
- Water Rescue. If your child was submerged under water and came up struggling, or required assistance from a lifeguard or other bystander, you need to bring your child to the ER, even if he or she looks fine.
- Amnesia. If your child lost consciousness under water, or has limited recollection of what happened, please take him or her to the ER.
- Changes in behavior. If your child acts sick, sleepy or at all out of the ordinary following the incident, take her to the ER.
- Vomiting. This can be a sign of ingesting bacteria from the water, and it can also be a symptom of dry drowning.
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According to doctors, the worst thing you can do after a case of suspected dry drowning is put your child to bed. When in doubt, have your child checked in the ER where doctors can treat dry drowning symptoms with IV medications and oxygen. And if doctors determine your child is as OK as he looks, the peace of mind means you'll both sleep better.
Find more pediatric health information at StLouisChildrens.org or call the St. Louis Children's Hospital Answer Line at 314-454-KIDS (5437) or 800-678-KIDS (5437).
For over 130 years, Children's Hospital and its Washington University School of Medicine physician partners have remained a resource for pediatric health and wellness for the St. Louis region and beyond.
They provide care in every pediatric specialty — from fetal care through adolescence. In 2014, U.S. News & World Report ranked St. Louis Children's Hospital in all 10 specialties, the only children's hospital in Missouri to earn this distinction. Their Level One Pediatric Trauma Center is nationally verified by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the highest national recognition possible.
Call the Answer Line at 314-454-KIDS (5437) for questions about your child's health, to register for a class or find a physician.
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