Picture this: your child is in the pool and inhales a mouthful of water. She coughs and may throw up. Afterwards she’s tired, but she can talk and walk, so you assume the worst is over. What you may not realise: drowning remains a risk.
Know the Facts
When a few drops of water make their way into a person’s lungs, they usually clear on their own, says paediatric emergency specialist Dr Michael Gerardi. But if more water gets trapped (say, a tablespoon), oxygen deprivation can occur and a toxic cascade of respiratory events such as inflammation and pulmonary oedema (a potentially fatal condition) could develop. Fortunately this kind of drowning – often called ‘secondary drowning’ – is extremely rare; if a child seems fine, the overwhelming odds are that they are fine. Still, you can never be too careful.
After any worrisome water incident, watch your child closely for these symptoms, which can worsen over time:
- Persistent coughing
- Vomit or pinkish foam coming from the mouth or nose
- Breathing difficulties
- Fatigue to the point of lethargy (including oddly timed naps or early bedtime)
- Lips and tongue turning blue
- Unusual change in behaviour
If any of these warning signs arises, head to the emergency room. ‘If no symptoms appear after eight hours, you can assume she’s in the clear,’ says Dr Justin Sempsrott, executive director of Lifeguards Without Borders. Your child can go to sleep on her usual schedule, adds Gerardi – there’s no need to wake her up to check on her.