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Summer safety tips for kids in pools and parks

Keeping active children safe and well during the summer months may not actually be more difficult than at other times of year.

But boy, it can sure seem that way.

Which is why pediatricians across Western New York offer lots of tips and advice to anxious parents at this time of year.

We spoke to doctors with Lancaster-Depew Pediatrics on Genesee Street and Western New York Pediatrics in Orchard Park to find out their suggestions for keeping kids healthy and safe this summer.

Among the ideas, organized by topic:

>Swimming safety

Small children and teenage boys are the most vulnerable to drowning incidents, according to Dr. Michael D. Terranova, a pediatrician at Lancaster-Depew Pediatrics and Buffalo chapter president for the American Association of Pediatrics.

Toddlers in particular -- kids between 1 and 3 years old -- are a vulnerable population that parents need to focus on where pools, lakes and other swimming situations are concerned, the doctor said.

"Toddler drowning deaths are preventable," said Terranova, who has written a paper on the subject.

He recommends these steps:

*Make sure that any pools -- in-ground or above ground, and no matter what size or depth -- are fully fenced on all four sides by a fence at least 4 feet high.

*Make sure the fence is locked with a "self-locking" gate, the kind that latches behind you and locks by itself. "It should be on a spring, so that if you open it, it automatically closes and locks," Terranova said. "With a lock a child can't figure out."

*When allowing a child into the pool, make sure a responsible adult is within "touching supervision" of the child: meaning, that the adult can reach out from where they are and touch the child in the water.

"It's the rare 1- to 3-year-old who can swim," Terranova said. "A child can drown within a minute. It's very quick."

*Where swimming lessons are concerned, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently changed its directives, and now does not caution parents against swim lessons for toddlers. Swim lessons or swimming time with a responsible adult can be a good idea and get the child used to the water, Terranova said.

However, he cautioned, one danger can be that parents begin to feel too comfortable about their child's abilities in the water. Swimming lessons or not, no matter what the child's pool-use level, the parent should still stay within that safe "touching" distance in the pool at all times, the doctor said.

"It's the same with those little floaty things they wear," said Terranova. "We don't feel that those should give parents the confidence to allow their child to be in the pool with little supervision."

*Pool alarms appeal to some parents, but Terranova warns against using them to monitor children's safety.

"They can malfunction," he said. "If they malfunction at a time when a child jumps in, you're not going to know."

>Bug bites

*Watch out for insect bites -- particularly ticks -- when a child spends time playing outside, especially near wooded areas or where grasses grow long. The insects can latch on to a child's clothes or hair in those settings, and then find a warm patch of skin to take a bite.

*Comb through children's hair thoroughly at night to make sure there are no bugs around, and after a walk in the woods, bag up the child's clothing in a plastic bag until you can wash it in a load of laundry -- just to be on the safe side. (Regular detergent works fine.)

*If a tick bite occurs, you can remove the bug yourself or have the child's doctor or nurse do it.

But make sure you get all of the parts of the insect out, and -- this part is important -- save the little animal in a jar of rubbing alcohol, doctors at Western New York Pediatrics advised.

That way, the animal can be analyzed to see what type of tick it is, how long it's been attached to the body, and how engorged -- or full of blood -- it's gotten. At Western New York Pediatrics, on Big Tree Road in Orchard Park, doctors send the bugs to the University at Buffalo for a quick analysis by an entomologist.

*Keep an eye on the area around the bite, and if any redness -- or a bull's-eye-shaped mark -- develops, call your pediatrician's office.

The same goes for fever or other atypical symptoms, which could be a warning sign for an infection like Lyme disease.

>Sun exposure

At Western New York Pediatrics, doctors recommend sunscreen for most kids in the 30 to 45 SPF range. Higher than that and there's not much additional value, they counsel.

For babies, the experts recommend parents keep their children out of the direct sun as much as possible.

And for the smallest children -- as well as older children sensitive to the heat -- the hottest hours of the day, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., are best spent out of sunlight and heat, according to the Orchard Park pediatricians' office.

If your kids are swimming, here's one more tip: Remember to reapply sunscreen when the little ones come out of the water.

It can wear off!

e-mail: getwell@buffnews.com

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