After a 4-year-old Houston boy died from "dry drowning" days after swimming at the lake, many parents are asking about the symptoms and the cause.

Dry drowning deaths are rare, making up for only one to two percent of all drowning cases. But it's a tragedy that doctors say can be prevented if the proper steps are taken.

Dr. Eric Higginbotham is the Emergency Department Director at Dell Children's Medical Center. He’s also a father of two and says parents not only have to watch their children while in the water, but also once they get out.

Dry drowning occurs when water enters the lungs when a person breathes in, allowing small amounts of water into the air sacs, which makes the airway muscles spasm.

What can be deceiving is when the child steps out of the water, they're fine. That's because it takes six hours or more to develop any serious symptoms.

"We can never really tell who really had the event and who didn't, so that's why we watch all of those kids for that amount of time,” Dr. Higginbotham said.

The most common signs include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden changes in behavior

If the symptoms go untreated, it can lead to death.

“It's just so preventable and that's what is so heartbreaking about it,” Dr. Higginbotham added.

Dr. Higginbotham says to eliminate distractions like talking on the phone or drinking while swimming. He also gave the following recommendations:

  • Use proper life jacket sizes
  • Block off the pool when not in use
  • Remove attractive toys from around water to avoid a child going in after them

And remember, the younger they are -- the more they need to be in arm's reach.

If your child was in a near drowning experience or is displaying unusual behavior, keep a close watch and contact your pediatrician.