Doctors warn of secondary drowning

Doctors urge parents to know the signs of secondary drowning.
Doctors urge parents to know the signs of secondary drowning.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Summer vacation is here and for many kids that means long days spent under the sun and in the pool.

However, it’s what happens after you leave the pool that doctors said can sometimes be most dangerous.

“When children are found sometimes in this condition, they’re described as having foam coming out of their nose and mouth,” said Pediatrician Timothy Snyder with Franciscan Physician Network.

It’s called secondary drowning and it happens after swimmers inhale water into their lungs. Snyder said the water interacts with a chemical in the lungs, which allows them to receive oxygen.

Once that’s diluted, Snyder said it prevents the lungs from operating normally.

“Anecdotally, most cases will occur within eight hours after, but some are described as longer than that,” said Snyder.

Snyder said symptoms can include difficulty breathing and decreased mental awareness.

While it’s hard to prevent something like that from happening, lifeguards at the West Lafayette Municipal Pool said they’re always on the look out for swimmers who experience any sort of distress.

“If it’s a really busy day, it can happen multiple times a day that we’re talking to our patrons saying, ‘hey, our lifeguards are a little concerned about you,'” said pool manager Kelsey Weber.

Weber said if they notice a swimmer has inhaled a lot of water, they’ll ask them to take a break and sit out for a while.

While lifeguards are constantly monitoring the status of swimmers in the pool, Weber said parents know their children best and it’s up to them to make sure they’re always on high alert.

“Always be with your child in the water,” said Weber. “If you’re unsure about their swimming ability, you need to be there. Lifeguards can prevent emergencies. But parents are first line, no matter what’s going on.”

Snyder said secondary drowning is very rare, but he said it’s still important for parents to recognize the warning signs.

He said if your child experiences any of those symptoms after a day at the pool, you should take them to the emergency room. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language, off topic, or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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