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It's called 'delayed drowning.' Here are 4 key warning signs plus the single best way to prevent it.

It's all over the news, but don't panic. Just learn how to spot the signs.

It's called 'delayed drowning.' Here are 4 key warning signs plus the single best way to prevent it.

In 2008, a young boy named Johnny Jackson went swimming and accidentally swallowed some water.

He had a short coughing fit, toweled off, and then went home. No big deal.

Or so his parents thought.


A few hours later, after going down for a nap, Johnny passed away.

In 2014, a toddler named Ronin came frighteningly close to the same fate. He slipped briefly into a pool before being pulled to safety by his mother. Ronin was shaken up but seemed fine.

Later that night, he lay stretched out in an ambulance as it screamed toward the hospital, where he arrived just in time.

Stories like these have resulted in an outburst of news coverage around what's being referred to as "dry drowning." But that's a bit of a misnomer.

Since we're entering the season of pool parties and beach trips, here are a few things you really need to know about what actually happened to Ronin and Johnny.

Ronin is doing great, by the way. Here he is learning how to swim. Photo from Delighted Momma, used with permission.

First, there is a difference between dry drowning and delayed drowning.

With dry drowning, water never enters the victim's lungs. Rather, it causes the vocal chords to spasm and shuts off airways without actually filling the lungs with water. Otherwise, it looks a lot like normal drowning because it occurs in real time and causes asphyxiation.

Delayed drowning, sometimes called secondary drowning, is a bit different. In cases like Ronin and Johnny's, water gets into the lungs in small amounts — not enough to disable breathing right away. Instead, it sits there and inhibits the lungs' ability to oxygenate blood. From there, the victim starts to have more and more trouble breathing over the course of several hours.

Second, drowning doesn't look the way it does in the movies.

Whether you're dealing with normal, dry, or delayed drowning, don't expect a dramatic scene full of thrashing, coughing, and yelling.

According to Dr. Anna Mendenhall of the Children's Physicians Medical Group, 9 out of 10 children who drown do so even though they were being supervised by a parent because it's so easy to miss the signs.

Here's what you need to look for, even hours after you've left the pool or beach:

  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain, or throwing up. Look for rapid and shallow breaths, nostril flaring, or a pronounced gap in the ribs when breathing. These are all signs a child is working too hard to get oxygen.
  • Extreme tiredness. Big-time fatigue can be a sign that the brain isn't getting enough oxygen.
  • Any odd change in behavior. Kids in the beginning stages of delayed drowning may be really cranky, argumentative, or combative.
  • Odd physical changes. Look out for blue lips or pale skin.

Most likely these symptoms will go away over time. But if they don't or they get worse, you might want to call your pediatrician on the way to the emergency room.

And the best way to watch for drowning in the moment? Get in the pool with your kids and stay within an arm's reach. It's the only way to make sure you don't miss anything.

Watching from the patio is a no-no. Get in the pool! Photo from Thinkstock.

Third, don't panic. Delayed and dry drownings combined make up only 1% to 2% of all drowning incidents.

There's no getting around it. This is really scary stuff, especially to a parent.

I have a 2-month-old daughter, and my first reaction to all of this is to literally never let her near a swimming pool. Ever.

But as scary as they are, these unusual cases are just that — unusual.

It's a really good idea teach your kids about basic water safety and get them comfortable in the pool with swim lessons at an early age (experts say 4 or 5 is a good age to start). But I'll say it again:

The single best thing you can do to protect a child from drowning — wet, dry, or otherwise — is to get in the pool with them.

As long as you're prepared, pools can be great for fun things like throwing your children! Photo from Thinkstock.

At least until they're old enough to be embarrassed by your presence.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less