Learn about secondary drowning and stay safe in the water

What causes secondary drowning?

Secondary drowning is caused by water or fluid build-up in the lungs, which prevents oxygen getting to the blood. Imagine a person who nearly drowns: They get rescued and seem to recover. During the near-drowning, they manage to breathe in say 30 millilitres of water. It’s a bit irritating and they cough a lot, but eventually seem to recover. The water collects in the very bottom of their lungs and isn’t much trouble. That night they lay down and go to sleep. While sleeping, the water spreads. Because the person is now on their back the water can cover up to half of their lung surface. It prevents oxygen exchange and they slowly stop breathing.

Signs and Symptoms of Secondary Drowning

  • Irritation or pain in the throat or chest
  • Coughing after taking a deep breath
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Dizziness/altered level of consciousness
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

What to do if this happens

Awareness is key! Anyone who has been involved in a near-drowning situation should be watched closely for the next 72 hours.

Prevent secondary drowning by learning to swim and staying within your depth.