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4 Year Old Recovering From “Secondary Drowning”

A 4-year-old girl from Sarasota, Florida is recovering from “secondary drowning” after “inhaling” pool water while playing around with a pool noodle in her grandmother’s pool.  Eliana, was blowing into one end, while another swimmer blew into the other end, forcing pool water to go into her throat.  She immediately threw up, but 2 days later, Eliana developed a fever.  The urgent care physician suspected aspiration pneumonia, or an infection of the lungs due to something being deeply inhaled, and recommended transfer to the emergency room.  The child subsequently was hospitalized, placed on immediate antibiotics and oxygen therapy.   According to FOX News, Eliana has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Last year, another child was a victim of “secondary drowning”.  Unfortunately, he passed away.  Frankie, 4 years old, went swimming at Texas City Dike over Memorial Day Weekend and was fine until a few days later, his father, Francisco Delgado, Jr., said he appeared to be suffering from a minor, stomach ailment.  Then one morning the boy woke up with shoulder pain, and “Out of nowhere, he just woke up. He said ahhh.”  His father told KTRK, “He took his last breath and I didn’t know what to do no more.”

What is “Dry Drowning” and “Secondary Drowning”?

Dry Drowning occurs when water touches the first pass of the respiratory tree, one’s vocal cords, larynx.  When water touches this area a reflex is triggered, causing a spasm (laryngospasm) such that the vocal cords constrict and close up the airway.  It’s a defense mechanism designed to prevent water from falling into the lungs. However, laryngospasm causes immediate hypoxia, lack of oxygen, and if not reversed, the victim will die.  In dry drowning, water never officially reaches the lungs.





In Secondary Drowning, water gets inhaled and sits in the respiratory tree and if uncleared through coughing, will sit and prevent proper oxygenation.  Moreover the water will irritate the lung linings causing more fluid and inflammation, resulting in pulmonary edema.  This could occur hours to days after the water activity.

According to Florida Hospital Tampa pediatrician, Dr. James Orlowski, these events are very rare, comprising only 1-2% of drowning incidents.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms for both “Dry” and “Secondary Drowning” are similar in which the victim could have any of the following:


Chest Pain

Difficulty Breathing

Shoulder Pain

Neck Pain



Behavior Changes


Difficulty speaking

to name a few…


Horse play in water should be avoided. This includes bathtubs, plastic pools, hot tubs, pools, lakes, ocean, etc.

Never swim alone.

Swim in areas staffed with lifeguards and/or appropriate supervision.

If water does get inhaled watch the child or adult to look for any of the above symptoms. If concerned seek medical help immediately.


Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician