Family health

Ask Dr. Dina: Should I be worried about secondary drowning?

Paediatrician and mom of three Dr. Dina Kulik demystifies secondary drowning and lists the signs to watch out for.

Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

Is dry drowning a real thing? Dry drowning (also known as secondary drowning) is extremely rare and accounts for only one to two percent of all drownings. It occurs when a child swallows or chokes on water—as opposed to being submerged—and a bit of the water makes its way into the lungs, causing inflammation. This makes breathing difficult and, in incredibly rare cases, can lead to death.

The good news is the signs of dry drowning are typically obvious within 24 hours of the incident—kids do not become sick out of the blue, as some parents fear. If your child had an episode of choking or near-drowning and afterward shows such symptoms as persistent coughing; choking; rapid, shallow breathing; difficulty breathing; forgetfulness or excessive sleepiness; nausea or vomiting, see a doctor. If your child is struggling to breathe, call 911 immediately.

Dr. Dina Kulik is a paediatrician and emergency room doctor in Toronto and mom to three boys, who are five, three and 17 months. Send her your kids’ health questions at

Read more: 8 life jacket tips that can save your child’s life 10 water safety tips Your most frequently asked kids’ health questions answered

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Dina is an entrepreneur, pediatrician, emergency medicine doctor and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario. She is the founder and CEO of Kidcrew, a multidisciplinary kids' health clinic.