PLUNGING INTO DANGER: DELAYED DROWNING AND OTHER WATER RISKS
June 28th, 2017 | Michelle M. Quinn
Along with high temperatures, summer often means aquatic adventures. While water can offer a refreshing break from the heat, HKQ Law Personal Injury Attorney Michelle Quinn cautions that “it can also be filled with danger”.
A week after playing in knee-deep water in the Texas City Dike during a family vacation, 4-year-old Frankie Delgado died. While in the water, a wave from a distant ship knocked him over and Frankie’s head went under water. After the incident, he appeared to be ok and “had fun the rest of the day” according to his father.
The next night, Frankie began to vomit and experience diarrhea. Frankie’s parents thought he just had a stomach bug. The symptoms persisted. Later in the week, Frankie woke at night complaining of shoulder pain. He later shot up from his bed again, this time taking his last breath.
Frankie was rushed to the hospital. But after medical staff spent over an hour trying to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead. They found water in his lungs, which caused edema, (swelling). When the air passages in the lungs are filled with water, they are unable to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the blood. This causes blood oxygen levels to drop and the heart to slow, which could end in cardiac arrest.
The condition responsible for claiming Frankie’s life is known as “secondary drowning”. Another type of delayed drowning is “dry drowning”. With dry drowning, water never reaches the lungs. Instead, the larynx shuts as a protective response. No water gets in, but no air gets in either. The laryngospasm deprives the body of oxygen. Even a few minutes of oxygen deprivation is fatal. People with heart defects and respiratory difficulties like asthma are at particular risk.
Secondary drowning and dry drowning have the same symptoms. They include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- mood change
(The vomiting that Frankie experienced could have been caused by either irritation from the water or a bacterial infection.)
Symptoms of dry drowning usually happen right after any incident in the water. Secondary drowning generally starts later, within 1 to 24 hours of the incident.
Both types of drownings can occur in adults, but they are more common in children because of their small size. The drownings are rare (accounting for only 1-2% of all drowning incidents), but it is important that any child who has fallen into the water or experienced a near-drowning is taken to the emergency room immediately. Keep a close eye on your child for the first 24 hours after he or she has had any problems in the water. If there are symptoms of delayed drowning, take the child to the emergency room, not your pediatrician's office.
Another potential risk from ingesting water at a pool or waterpark is a parasitic infection. Authorities are warning of an increase in outbreaks of such infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were at least 32 outbreaks of cryptosporidium in the U.S. in 2016. This is double the number of outbreaks reported to the agency in 2014. An average of 8,000 people a year suffer through up to three weeks of watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting as a result of the illness.
"Crypto" as the parasite is often known, spreads when people swallow water that has come into contact with feces from an infected person. According to a CDC study, fecal matter is found in a distressingly high number of pools – at least half.
Crypto, which can survive up to 10 days, is not easily killed by normal levels of chlorine. So it's important to keep the parasite out of water in the first place.
To protect yourself and others from infection, the CDC encourages following these guidelines:
- Don’t swallow swimming water, in pools or elsewhere
- Don't swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea
- If you were ill due to crypto, wait two weeks after symptoms have stopped before swimming
- Shower before swimming
- Check and change diapers in a diaper-changing area, NOT right next to the pool
- Give kids frequent bathroom breaks
The last tip is important in keeping kids from urinating in the pool. A recent study found EVERY pool tested contained urine. While it does not cause illness directly, urine depletes chlorine levels, giving germs a better chance to survive.
Pathogens aren’t the only contaminants that cause recreational water illnesses. Recreational water illnesses can also be caused by chemicals in the water or chemicals that evaporate from the water and create indoor air quality problems.
Chlorine is the chemical most public and private pools rely on for disinfection, and it usually is effective and generally safe. However, excess chlorine levels in the pool can make the water toxic to humans. When people are exposed to swimming pool water which contains too much chlorine, they may experience some of the following side effects right away or soon after getting out of the pool:
- a burning sensation in the throat
- bloody nose
- eye irritation
- coughing or wheezing
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- a burning or irritated feeling on the skin
- buildup of fluid in the lungs
When chlorine binds to the body waste swimmers bring into pools (for example, perspiration, oils and urine) it forms chemicals called chloramines. Chloramines in the water, like dichloramine and trichloramine, can irritate skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract when they give off gas from the water and into the air above, particularly indoors. It is chloramines, not chlorine, that causes the familiar “pool smell”. A well-managed pool has no odor. By showering before entering the pool, swimmers can help reduce chloramines.
Chlorine gas can be especially dangerous. (The gas was used as a chemical weapon during World War I.) Equipment failure and human error can lead to the release of toxic chlorine gas at public pools and other water venues. In June 2015, one such release sickened 34 people at an outdoor public pool in California.
Symptoms of chlorine gas exposure include:
- blurred vision
- a burning sensation in the nose, throat and eyes
- coughing; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- fluid in the lungs
- nausea and vomiting
- watery eyes