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Doctors warn of potential drowning hours after leaving the pool

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KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) -

It's nothing anyone likes to think about, but drowning is the second leading cause of death for children. Doctors want to warn parents about a type of drowning that can happen long after you've left the pool.

In the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Kansas Hospital Dr. Sarah Hoehn sees it all.

One thing she never wants to see again is a case of secondary drowning. It's a scary-sounding name given to a terrifying disease. It happens hours after a child chokes from inhaling too much water. They seem fine, but then the worst happens.

"It happens in seconds because it's just a matter of getting water past the vocal chords before the body's had time to react and then that starts the process in the lungs," Hoehn said.

If it isn't treated, it can kill. Hoehn said she's seen it firsthand.

"The first patient I ever took care of was a young woman who was drowning in a city pool and the lifeguards got her out. She could walk, she could talk, everyone took her home and 12 hours later she started coughing, then developed horrible lung disease and ended up dying," she said.

It's something that Overland Park, KS, mother Tonia Nelsen is well aware of after it happened to a friend of her daughter.

"She had a sleepover with us that night and she coughed all night long, and I though her asthma was flaring up, so I kept doing breathing treatments on her, but she had ingested water in her lungs," Nelsen said.

Thankfully that little girl was fine. She was taken to the hospital and given the treatment she needed.

Hoehn said you should watch for difficulty breathing, excessive coughing or behavioral changes, such as a child that naps hours longer than usual or a child that forgets how to do things like use the bathroom. She said these are all potential signs that he or she isn't getting enough oxygen, and should be taken to a doctor right away.

Doctors say the faster a child exhibiting these symptoms is seen, the better their chances of survival.

The only way to know for certain whether a child is in danger is by measuring their oxygen levels and taking a chest x-ray. Treatment includes oxygen and even the use of a ventilator.

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