SPECIAL REPORT: What are the signs of dry drowning?

SPECIAL REPORT: What are the signs of dry drowning?
Published: Jul. 1, 2016 at 8:11 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2016 at 11:32 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - If you're like most parents, you figure once your child is done swimming or playing in the water, the risk of drowning is over.

But drowning can happen hours after they've toweled off and moved on to other things. It's called dry drowning - here is what it is and what you can do to keep your child safe.

It's another hot, summer day at the splash park at Woodruff Park in Columbus, and 5-year-old A.J. Fulleton is having fun running through the water. Not long ago though, he almost drowned at a family's pool.

"By the time my daughter got to him, he was blue around the mouth and pulled him out and shook him a little bit and he coughed water up."

Tammy Fulleton says even though he appeared to be okay, she watched him for several days.

"For a couple of nights I slept with him because I was concerned about dry drownings."

Dry drowning is something many people don't know about. Dr. Daryl Ellis with Bi-City Medical in Phenix City defines dry drowning as: An acute reaction when a small amount of water gets into the upper airway causing the vocal cords to spasm.

"In dry-drowning, you should know almost immediately. The child will come out of the water and start coughing somewhat uncontrollably, gasping for air," Dr. Ellis said.

And there's even another form of drowning that can sneak up on a child hours after leaving the pool, it's called secondary-drowning.

That's when water gets in the lungs and causes inflammation over time, making it difficult to breathe. It some instances it can take up to 24 hours before you realize there's a serious problem.

Children who do not have proper training in how to swim, children who have near-drowning events or rough-housing in a pool, they aspirate water.

Crystal Mays hadn't heard of dry or secondary drowning. Since she brings her children to the splash pad, she says she'll check them more when they leave.

"Make sure they're not breathing any type of way when we get home," Mays said.

Because you may not see your child inhale or swallow the water, it's important to know the signs of dry or secondary drowning. Watch for trouble breathing, consistent coughing, extreme tiredness and excessive sleepiness. What's also scary, it can happen while your child is sleeping.

"That's pretty scary now," Mays said.

Dr. Ellis says prevention is key. His best advice for parents is to give your child swimming lessons. And if a child is not well-trained in the water, use a flotation device. A day at the pool, on the river or even the splash park doesn't have to be a recipe for disaster.

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