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Keep the family safe in pools, oceans and lakes

MarinaKuzminykh, iStock / Getty Images Plus
MarinaKuzminykh, iStock/Getty Images Plus

The University of Kentucky Public Relations and Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week’s column is by Sherri Hannan, coordinator for Safe Kids Fayette County.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 1, 2024) — Ask any child about the best part of summer, and chances are many will say it’s going to the pool or beach. And even though parents are aware of the risk of drowning, it remains the number one cause of death in children ages 1-4, as well as a leading cause of death among teens. Nearly 1,000 children drown each year, and more than 8,700 children were hospitalized for a near-drowning event. It’s quick and silent, and it can happen to any family.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swim lessons as a layer of protection against drowning; that can begin for many children starting at age 1. Even if your child has had swim lessons, they should never be unsupervised in water. Toddlers are the highest risk for drowning; their curious nature will lead them to explore areas that are dangerous for them but seem innocuous to adults. A good rule is “touch supervision,” meaning young children should always be close enough to touch when around water. Other tips include:

  • Choose a safe place to swim. Ensure that swimming pools are enclosed by a fence on all sides. In oceans, be aware of strong currents and waves.
  • Instead of “floaties,” have your child wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket in and around water.
  • Watch kids when they are in or around water without being distracted. Young children can drown in as little as one inch of water, so it’s important to keep them within an arm’s reach of an adult. Assign a “water watcher,” an adult who will pay constant attention to children in the water. Switch off with another adult for breaks.
  • Children should wear brightly colored swimsuits that contrast against the water, such as yellow, orange and pink.
  • Empty small kiddie pools immediately after use. Store thewm upside down and out of children’s reach.

Kentucky’s numerous lakes are a fun summer getaway. However, teens and adolescents have a greater risk of death or injury in natural bodies of water because they overestimate their abilities and underestimate dangerous situations. They may feel pressure from their friends even if they don’t have strong swim skills or experience. They may also seek out unsafe swimming areas such as waterfalls and rivers. Encourage them to only swim where lifeguards are present.

Familiarize yourself with the signs of drowning. It’s not the dramatic splashing you see in movies but is actually subtle and silent. If you see someone vertical in the water with their mouths near the surface, and they appear to be “climbing an invisible ladder,” get them out of the water as soon as possible.

One of the best ways to prepare for summer safety is to learn CPR. Contact your local community center or the Red Cross to find certification courses near you.

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.