By: Dr. Michelle MD
The weather is getting hotter, and the school year is winding down. It is time to prepare for the upcoming summer vacation season. Many families will ready themselves for vacation. Summertime is wonderfully different than other seasons since we spend more time outdoors. This means our children have much more freedom to move.
There is more space to run and play, to ride bikes and rollerskate, and to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Swimming is a regular activity. Unfortunately, it is also a time of more frequent accidental injuries, sunburns, insect bites, and hot days, a higher risk of dehydration. Many of the mishaps and injuries that happen in summer can be prevented if we use common sense and plan for a safe vacation season. We must try to do our best to have a healthy and safe summer.
It is essential to know that infants under a year of age have very thin skin. This means that they can sunburn in a much shorter time than older children. For the first few months of life, the only strong protections are clothing and shade. Floppy hats that shade the face and neck, sunshades and umbrellas on strollers are needed every day.
To protect toddlers and older children, hats and tee shirts are still a good idea. They also need sunscreen lotion, the ones made for children, with SPF#15 or more. These lotions need to be reapplied every 4 hours and after swimming. Although some tanning is expected, it should be minimized. The more sun exposure children have, the more skin damage they have as the years go by. Light skinned “freckle faces” are particularly vulnerable. This damage, which eventually shows as leathery, dried-out skin, also makes the likelihood of skin cancer higher.
If the child does get a sunburn, there is no real treatment. Cold compresses help a little, but it has to heal on its own. Any part of the skin that has sustained a sunburn must be protected very carefully with sunscreen and shade for at least a year after the burn.
Bike Helmets and Protective Gear
The vast majority of injuries from bike riding, scooters, skateboarding, and rollerblading, can be prevented by wearing the right gear. Helmets are a must! Head injuries can be life-threatening and life-altering. There is no excuse for letting any child do any of these rolling sports without a helmet! Take away the bike if the child refuses to wear a helmet — no riding without helmets. In addition, wrist guards, knee guards, and elbow guards are all needed for rollerblading.
There are a few important directives that must be enforced to prevent a tragedy:
1) Never ever swim alone and never allow anyone you know to swim alone.
2) Never allow kids to swim without adult supervision.
3) Supervising adults must give swimmers all of their attention.
4) Camp and community swimming pools need to be licensed, trained lifeguards, and water safety professionals.
5) Rules of conduct must be set by these professionals.
6) Everyone must listen to the lifeguards and respect these rules!
7) Passive and secure locks that close automatically must be used to lock pool gates.
On very hot days, make sure that your campers have unlimited amounts of water to drink all day long. Water sports like sprinkler running, water fights, and swimming activities are excellent. Allowing a child to run around in wet clothes on these days helps prevent dehydration. Since sweating causes both water and salt loss, pretzels are an excellent snack to prevent salt imbalance. Adults must remind counselors to keep “watering” their campers all day.
Here are a few important facts:
Whenever the kids are in woods or high grass, they should wear long-sleeve shirts and pants with the cuffs tucked into socks. Insect repellent containing DEET can be applied to the face and neck and clothing. At the end of the day, do a tick check, including combing the hair to search for anything that catches on the comb or a dot that feels like it is stuck on the skin.
If ticks are found and removed in the first day or two, they are much less likely to cause Lyme disease. Simply pull them off with fine tweezers. It does not matter if a little piece is left in the skin. If you do remove a tick, you can save it in alcohol and give it to the doctor to send it to the lab to see if it is infected with Lyme disease. Wash off the area with soap and water.
It is essential to watch the area for the next week to see if an enlarging red target-like rash develops. “Flu-like illness” in the first few weeks after tick bites should be reported to the child’s doctor.
Bee stings hurt and sometimes cause a lot of swelling, but they are not usually dangerous. Ice helps a lot to reduce pain and swelling. Hives, lip or tongue swelling, wheezing, or generalized itching immediately after the sting could be a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. If you suspect a more generalized reaction, give Benedryl immediately and call 911. If your child has ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings or any other substance, he should be treated by an allergist, and an Epipen (with training as to its use) should be obtained.
Spider bites cause blistering. They are usually painless and harmless.
Spraying the grounds prior to the summer is a good idea. Try to remove all stagnant water and empty rainwater from toys and furniture whenever possible. Mosquito netting is essential for small infants. Mosquito bites are usually harmless, but scratched ones tend to get infected. The best anti-itch lotions and gels contain praxamine (e.g., Itch Ex and Clear Caladryl). Ice is a terrific anti-itch. 1% hydrocortisone creams and ointments are good for flared bites. Bacitracin or Neosporin help prevent infection in inflamed areas.
Toddlers are unpredictable and have no common sense. Never leave a toddler in the care of a youngster. Do not let a tragedy happen because the responsible adult was not paying attention.
A relaxed, active summer is a beautiful way to revitalize ourselves and our kids. With the day to day attention to basic common sense, we can all enjoy the vacation without exposing our families to unnecessary risks.