A Guide to Secondary Drowning for Wild Water Swimmers


Wild water swimming offers a unique connection with nature and the thrill of open water. However, it’s essential to be aware of the risks, including a less well-known but potentially life-threatening condition called secondary drowning. In this post, we’ll shed light on the dangers, signs, symptoms, and actions to take if you suspect secondary drowning after your wild water swim.

What Is Secondary Drowning?

Secondary drowning, also known as “dry drowning,” occurs when a small amount of water is inhaled during swimming, leading to irritation and inflammation in the lungs. This inflammation can progress over time, causing breathing difficulties and other severe complications, sometimes hours after leaving the water.

The Dangers

Secondary drowning is rare, but it can be dangerous. Some of the key dangers include:

1. Delayed Onset: Symptoms may not appear immediately, making it easy to underestimate the seriousness of the situation.

2. Breathing Difficulties: As inflammation in the lungs worsens, it becomes increasingly challenging to breathe, potentially leading to oxygen deprivation.

3. Risk for Anyone: Secondary drowning can affect swimmers of all ages, including children and adults.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of secondary drowning is crucial. Watch out for:

1. Persistent Coughing: If someone continues coughing or seems unable to stop coughing after swimming, it may be a sign of water irritation in the airways.

2. Difficulty Breathing: Rapid or shallow breathing, wheezing, or chest pain are concerning symptoms.

3. Extreme Fatigue: Unexplained exhaustion or lethargy after swimming should raise a red flag.

4. Change in Behavior: Irritability, confusion, or a noticeable change in mood can indicate oxygen deprivation.

What to Do

If you suspect secondary drowning, follow these steps immediately:

1. Seek Medical Help: Call 999 or your local emergency number. Prompt medical attention is crucial.

2. Monitor Vital Signs: Keep an eye on the person’s breathing and heart rate. If they stop breathing or lose consciousness, be prepared to perform CPR if trained.

3. Keep Calm and Comfort: Encourage the person to remain as calm as possible. Anxiety and stress can exacerbate breathing difficulties.

4. Do Not Delay: Secondary drowning can worsen rapidly. Never wait to see if the symptoms improve on their own.

Prevention is Key

The best way to deal with secondary drowning is to prevent it:

1. Supervise Swimmers: Always supervise children and inexperienced swimmers closely.

2. Teach Safe Practices: Educate swimmers about water safety and the importance of not inhaling water.

3. Stay Informed: Be aware of the risks associated with secondary drowning, so you can respond effectively if needed.


Secondary drowning is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that every wild water swimmer should be aware of. Knowing the signs, symptoms, and actions to take can make a crucial difference in ensuring the safety of yourself and others in the open water. Stay informed, swim responsibly, and always prioritize safety in your wild water adventures.