Water can be so much fun to be around with your family and friends but it is imperative that everyone is fully aware of the dangers it also represents. One of these dangers is ‘Secondary drowning’. Secondary drowning has made the news again in 2015 in the case of businessman Alan Gough who died, whilst driving, 2 hours after capsizing his canoe on Ullswater in the Lake District. Mr Gough was canoeing with a friend when he capsized; he made it back to shore and the only sign of injury was a bit of blood from his nose. He was able to continue canoeing but told his friend that he had swallowed some water. Two hours after this incident, Mr Gough seemingly lost consciousness at the wheel and crashed. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Secondary drowning is often referred to as dry drowning but the official term is submersion injury. Water enters the lungs when a person is submerged and causes swelling inside the lung, preventing the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide, and the reverse. The effect can be delayed for up to 24 hours, a fact that a lot of people will find terrifying. Although these types of injury are incredibly rare it is important that parents and swimming instructors are aware of the symptoms.
Firstly, teaching a child to swim makes an incident of drowning less likely, as a child who is skilled at moving around in the water will be far more likely to regain a standing position if in a lower level of water or float on their backs if in a deeper level of water. Parents can help safety in swimming lessons by reinforcing pool rules such as not running and listening to their teacher. Always reinforce the importance of water safety.
If a child does get pulled from the water, whether they have been unconscious or not, they need to be seen by a doctor. If the child shows any of the following symptoms after they have seen a doctor, then call the NHS 111 service for advice or call 999.
• The person develops a persistent cough or starts coughing a lot when they are moving around.
• Behavioural changes, particularly in children, are usually an indication that there is a potential problem that may need medical attention.
• Abnormal sleepiness. Do not let the individual sleep until they have been given a clean bill of health by a doctor.
• The most serious symptom that requires urgent medical attention (999 ambulance service) is if the person’s breathing requires more effort. Indications that this is happening in children is if their nostrils are flaring, their breathing is faster but shallower than normal, or if you can see the gap above their collarbone or between their ribs when they are breathing.
All the above symptoms could indicate that not enough oxygen is getting into the blood stream. It is essential that you inform the medical professional that the individual has potentially inhaled water, so that they can provide the most appropriate medical attention in the fastest amount of time.
Please always remain safe in and around water by makings sure that you understand yours and other limitations. Also make sure that you are with someone at all times and never go into the water alone. And of course be well equipped and learn to swim as early as you can.
Written by Elaine Fountain, Swimming Instructor