The Bridgeview Park District pool was closed after a 6-year-old Justice boy was found unresponsive there Tuesday afternoon. | Steve Metsch/Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2014 10:37AM
Every time a child is rescued from drowning in a swimming pool this summer, parents and friends will leave for the day with a sigh of well-deserved relief.
But physicians are telling parents that this isn’t where drowning dangers actually end.
After nearly drowning, a child still can be a victim of secondary drowning, which can occur hours or days after having been saved from the deep end.
According to Dr. Luis Torero, specialist in pediatric critical care at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, secondary drowning is a very real danger that exists for children after inhaling water with irritating or toxic substances. These substances can settle in the lungs, causing inflammation. The result, a process known as pulmonary edema, pushes fluid into the lungs.
This can happen even if a child does not actually inhale water during a near-drowning incident.
“Even if the child who went through a near-drowning event didn’t aspirate water to his or her lungs, the stress on the body is such that inflammation and pulmonary edema can still happen,” Torero said in a press release.
Children who vomit after ingesting large amounts of pool water while swimming also are at risk for aspirating substances that can cause such significant lung irritation.
Left untreated, this condition can have serious consequences.
“What can happen if it continues to get worse is that the child or person can go into respiratory failure, which means they can’t sustain the work of breathing — the lungs are not able to provide enough oxygen to the body,” Torero said in a telephone interview.
Such respiratory failure potentially requires the use of a respirator to keep a patient alive.
The Cook County medical examiner’s office handled eight cases of drowning in a swimming pool in 2013 and one so far this year, according to a spokesman.
The recent death of Michael Duda, 6, of Justice, who drowned at a Bridgeview pool during a day camp activity, reminds parents and chaperones to be ever watchful when their children are in the water. Duda died at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn earlier this month after being found unresponsive at the Bridgeview Park District pool in Commissioners Park.
“The best thing is obviously, as much as you possibly can, to always be aware of where your child is and to supervise your child as much as possible,” Torero told the SouthtownStar. “If parents know how to perform CPR. That’s even better. That’s one more thing that could be helpful.”
But to avoid secondary drowning, watchfulness can’t end there. Parents should be taking note of any abnormal exhaustion, irritability or labored fast-paced breathing in children. Lips taking on a pale or a blue tint can also indicate a lower oxygen concentration.
If signs of secondary drowning are noticed, it’s important to seek medical help immediately. Treatment varies depending on the severity at which the child is experiencing the condition.
“Sometimes all they need is a little bit of oxygen and some time for their bodies to recover,” Torero said. “Sometimes, in the other extreme, the child could arrive to the emergency room in a complete cardiac arrest — then the support they require is really intense.”