Dry Drowning, and 4 Other Hidden Summer Dangers Parents Should Know About

Image source: Thinkstock / Babble
Image source: Thinkstock / Babble

As the mother of two young kids, I constantly feel like I have to have my guard up in the safety department, especially in the winter. Slippery walkways covered in black ice, the threat of frostbite from playing outside too long, and all those pesky germs floating around school … the list goes on. But now that summer’s here, I can finally kick back, relax, and let the kids go wild.

Okay, make that almost.

While summer does bring with it the fresh air of freedom, sunny days, and many other positives, there are a few things that I’ve learned to keep an extra eye on over the years — and I’m not just talking about the obvious things, like properly fitted bike helmets. I’m talking about some of the sneakier safety hazards of summer; the ones that aren’t always top-of-mind for parents, but absolutely should be.

1. Dry drowning (aka secondary drowning).

At one point or another, most parents will experience that terrifying moment where their child’s head slips just below the surface of the water. Maybe they fell into the pool or slipped out of an inner tube. Or maybe it was simply one of those misplaced “jump to me” moments, where their child jumped into the water just out of reach for the arms waiting to catch them. Thankfully, a good majority of those parents will also experience the overwhelming relief they feel when they’re able to pull their child to the surface, help them cough up some water, and count their blessings that they’re OK.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and it’s important for parents to know the dangers and spot the warning signs of dry drowning — which, according to the CDC, accounts for more unintentional deaths in kids ages 4 and under than any other cause.

Dry or secondary drowning occurs when aspirated water (even a few gasps) enters the airway or lungs. It then causes the airway to spasm shut or causes enough irritation that the body floods the lungs with fluid and makes effective breathing impossible. The scariest part of all is that dry and secondary drowning doesn’t usually occur right away. In fact, it starts at least an hour after the water aspiration incident, and can occur up to 48 hours later.

And that is exactly why knowing the signs and symptoms of dry and secondary drowning is so important. They are:

  1. Coughing and trouble breathing.
  2. Lethargy.
  3. A change in skin, lip, or nail color.
  4. A marked change in behavior.
  5. A change in breathing pattern.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it’s imperative that they be seen immediately by a medical professional. Sadly, many children who experience dry drowning die in their sleep, as parents assume their lethargy, behavioral changes, and cough are a sign of a long day or an impending cold and simply put them to bed where they drown in their sleep. Knowledge is power people, it saves lives, and it could save the life of your child.

2. Expired sunscreen.

Last year I got a horrific sunburn, which didn’t make any sense because I had diligently slathered myself with sunscreen. But as I took a closer look at the bottle to double check the SPF, I suddenly realized that there was an expiration date clear as day on the back — and it had expired two years prior. #FAIL

To be honest, I didn’t even know until that point that sunscreen actually expired. If you’re anything like me, you might milk the contents of a lotion bottle for several years at a time, and in my naivety, I had carried that habit over to my sunscreen. Although painful and crispy, I was thankful that the damage had been done to my own skin and not to the skin of my children.

With a little help from Google, here’s what I subsequently learned:

  1. Sunscreen expires three years from the date of manufacture. After that three years is up, the ingredients start to break down and become less effective at doing what they were designed to do, which leaves anyone wearing that sunscreen with inadequate protection.
  2. Children should use at least an SPF 15 and it should be applied 30 minutes before going outdoors.
  3. Sunscreen is surprisingly temperature sensitive. Leaving it in your car all summer to boil is most definitely going to destroy its effectiveness.

3. Heatstroke.

This one’s a particularly tricky danger to spot, because as parents we’re used to seeing sweaty, panting kids running around the backyard on a hot summer day. So how do you know when your child is on the verge of heatstroke, or just having a good time and breaking a sweat?

According to an article released by Vanderbilt University:

“Physicians at Children’s Hospital say a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s, and when the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs begin to shut down. Children are placed at extreme risk for severe hyperthermia and heatstroke in just minutes.”

But don’t let this freak you out just yet. There are lots of warning signs that come first. Here are the most important ones be aware of:

  1. Throbbing headache.
  2. Lack of sweating despite the heat.
  3. Quick shallow breaths.
  4. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  5. Weakness or muscle cramps.
  6. Nausea or vomiting.
  7. Rapid heartbeat.
  8. Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering.
  9. Loss of consciousness and seizures.

If you notice any or all of these symptoms in your child, take immediate steps to cool them down and call 911. The period between symptoms and death can be very, very small.

4. Hot car deaths in older children.

We’ve all seen the horrific — yet sadly common — news headlines about babies dying in hot cars that circulate every summer. Still, many parents are unaware of just how easily an accident like this can occur with kids of all ages, not just babies. When it comes to heat-related car deaths in children, NoHeatStroke.org reports that 31% of cases involve infants. But the remaining 69% of cases involve older children — many of whom have perhaps climbed into a car in the driveway while playing hide-and-seek, or gone in to retrieve a forgotten toy, and become trapped inside accidentally.

Here are some simple ways to avoid this from happening to your child:

  1. Keep the car doors locked when the vehicle is not in use.
  2. Make sure your keys are kept out of reach within the home.
  3. Teach your children that a car is not a place to play.
  4. If you can’t find your child, check the car first (and other cars nearby).

5. Hidden ticks.

Though it’s pretty gross to think about, ticks can embed themselves into the skin pretty much anywhere. And they’re pretty craft about picking their hiding spots, too. While we’ve all been guilty of doing a quick once-over check on our kids once they’ve come indoors from playing at one point or another, it’s important to remember that tickborne diseases are serious, and include everything from the more common Lyme disease to lesser-known diseases such as Tularemia, which is often transmitted by the dog tick.

Here are some spots to look out for that you may not think to check:

  1. Check in between your child’s toes.
  2. Check your child’s hair.
  3. And behind their ears.

Of course, don’t let this list scare you out of having an amazing summer. If anything, I hope it arms you with the knowledge you need to enjoy it even more, knowing that your family is safe.

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