10 Summer Safety Tips for Kids
Having fun in the sun can pose serious health risks for kids -- especially if you haven't taken the necessary precautions. The National Safe Kids Campaign estimates that every year, one in four kids ages 14 and younger will sustain an injury that requires medical attention. Forty percent of all injury-related emergency room visits and 42 percent of all injury deaths happen between May and August, but it's not all bad news.
We can keep kids free from about 90 percent of these accidents by educating ourselves and our kids on how to stay safe while still enjoying summer vacation.
Here's what you need to know to be prepared to handle some of the most common summer health hazards.
It takes as little as 15 minutes for the sun's UV rays to burn unprotected skin, and once they do, there's no way to reverse the effects, according to the National Institutes of Health. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, getting one blistering sunburn when you're a kid doubles your chances of developing melanoma. Sunburn symptoms include redness, pain, blisters, fever, chills, weakness and swollen skin.
Kids who are fair tend to burn faster than those with darker hair and skin, but all children are at risk if they're not adequately protected. In addition to the short-term symptoms, childhood sunburn can lead to serious long-term conditions, including skin cancer.
- Prevent it: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying enough sunscreen to coat all exposed skin 15 minutes before your kids go outside, plus a lip balm with an SPF of 30. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB light. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen even if it's not sunny. (Eighty percent of the sun's rays penetrate clouds.) Try to limit sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Treat it: Give your kids a cool bath or shower, or put wet, cold washcloths on their burn. If they don't have blisters, apply moisturizing cream to relieve discomfort, but avoid products that contain benzocaine, lidocaine or petroleum. In the case of blisters, covering the area with dry bandages may prevent infection. For pain, you can give kids ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), but never aspirin.
Did you know that if you're feeling thirsty, you're already mildly dehydrated? Relying on thirst as a reminder to take a drink leaves you at risk for dehydration. So to be sure your kids are OK, look for these other signs, instead, which can indicate that a child is dehydrated:
- Dry mouth
- Cessation of sweating
- Dark yellow urine
- Anuria (lack of urine) for 12 hours (or 6 hours for infants)
- Tearless crying
- Sunken eyes
Help kids avoidbecoming dehydrated by reminding them to drink often throughout the day. TheAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends drinking about every 20 minutesif kids are active in sports, about five ounces is right for a kid weighing 88pounds.
Water andsports drinks (drinks that contain electrolytes) are the best options forhydrating kids -- avoid sodas, juice and other fruit drinks. The National Alliance for Youth Sportsrecommends choosing beverages that contain 100 mg (or more) of sodium and 28 mg(or more) of potassium in an 8-ounce serving (if choosing sports drinks, watchout for high sugar content).
When kids are exposed to heat for extended periods of time, their bodies can get overheated. Sweating helps cool them down, but if you don't replace the fluids they've lost, they may get sick and even develop heatstroke, a life-threatening condition.
Kids drink only half the amount of water they need, and three-fourths of parents don't know how to prevent their kids from getting dehydrated, according to the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. The signs of heat exhaustion in kids are dizziness, stomach or leg cramps, flushed cheeks, irritability and fainting.
Kids are more susceptible to heat illnesses than adults are because their central nervous system is not yet fully developed. Strenuous activity and dehydration make it difficult for young bodies to regulate changes in body temperature, and chronic health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease and medicines such as antihistamines also increase the risk. Kids are also at risk for heat illnesses if left in a hot car -- even if the windows are cracked and even if it's only for a few minutes. Never leave a child unattended in a car.
- Prevent it: Make sure your kids drink water or a sports beverage every 20 minutes during outdoor play. (Kids younger than 5 need half a glass; older ones need a full glass.) Keep kids in a cool environment as much as possible. Air-conditioning is the greatest protection against heat-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Treat it: If your kids show symptoms of heat exhaustion, bring them into a cool environment immediately and have them drink cool liquids.
Summertime offers so many gorgeous days for picnicking and cookouts. But don't let the heat ruin your outing -- food-borne illnesses are caused by bacteria (such as E.coli, Salmonella, Clostridium botulinum, Listeria, Campylobacter and Clostridium perfringens), viruses (such as Norwalk virus), parasites and other toxins.
Food-borne illness looks a lotlike the flu, and typically includes nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting anddiarrhea. Symptoms can range from mild gastrointestinal discomfort to bloodystools.
- Prevent it:
One of the best ways to avoid food poisoning during the summertime is to be sure food items that contain mayonnaise, milk, eggs, meat, poultry and seafood aren't kept at room temperature for more than an hour or two (one hour max if it's 90 degrees F outside). And remember, meat and eggs aren't the only culprits; raw fruits and vegetables can cause problems if not properly washed and stored. If you're traveling with food, be sure to pack any raw meat separately from ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
Poison ivy, as well as poison oak and sumac, contains an oil called urushiol, which when it comes in contact with skin, causes an allergic reaction in about 85 percent of the population. The subsequent rash that develops will only appear where the skin came in contact with the plant's oil -- and luckily, it isn't contagious, but it can spread through indirect contact (such as petting a dog that has run through poisonous plants).
Symptoms of apoison ivy rash may include:
- Itchy skin
- Redness or red streaks
- Small bumps or hives
- Blisters that drain fluid when popped
- Prevent it:
The only way toavoid developing the rash is to avoid contact with these poisonous plants, but wearing clothing thatcovers a good amount of skin will help reduce your risk.
- Treat it:
The American Academyof Dermatology recommends home treatment for mild cases, including cool showersand oatmeal baths. If itching and swelling become moderate to severe,prescription medications can be used to reduce symptoms.
Whether or not you wore a helmet while riding your bike as a child, it's a must for kids these days. Nearly 300,000 kids make a visit to the emergency room every year with bike-related injuries, some resulting in death or severe brain injury. Wearing a helmet can help reduce your child's risk of making such a visit.
- Prevent it:
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sets standards for helmets, so be sure to choose one with its safety seal on it. Keeping kids safe on their bikes also means sending them out on bikes that fit. Checking that your child hasn't outgrown last year's ride is easy: Have your child straddle the top bar of his or her bike with both feet flat on the ground. A 1 to 3-inch gap between the bar and your child's body means it's still the correct size.
More than 205,000 kids visit emergency rooms with playground-related injuries every year, estimates the Consumer ProductSafety Commission (CPSC). Many of these injuries could be prevented with alittle precaution and adult supervision.
- Prevent it:
Check the playground equipment before letting kids play on it. For example, surfaces that are too hot can cause burns, and loose ropes -- ropes that aren't secured on both ends -- can cause accidental strangulation. The ground should be covered in a protective surface such as rubber mats, wood or rubber mulch or wood chips, never grass, asphalt or concrete. The right surface materials could reduce the risk of head injury or other severe injury in the event of a fall.
Also, be sure that your child's clothing is playground-friendly: Remove any strings, such as those on hoodies, only let them wear closed-toed shoes at play and avoid clothing that is loose enough to catch on equipment.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death among kids 14 and younger. And for every child who dies, four more are treated in emergency rooms for near-drowning injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of these cases require hospitalization or higher-level care, and some result in brain damage and disabilities.
- Prevent it: Make sure the swimming area has lifeguards. Otherwise, you or another adult should provide constant supervision. (With preschool kids, you need to be within arm's length when they're in the water in order to provide "touch supervision.") If you're visiting people with a pool, ask if they have pool fencing. (Four-sided fencing that's at 4 feet high offers the best protection.) Even if they do, make sure you know where your kids are at all times, keeping young children in sight. And whenever you go boating, put a proper-sized life vest on your kids.
- Treat it: If a child isn't breathing after a near-drowning accident, perform CPR and call 911. The sooner you can get the child to the emergency room, the better his chances of survival and full recovery are, according to the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.
Outdoorsy types aren't the only ones who need to worry about ticks -- you could pick one up in your own yard while gardening or playing outside. Prevent tick bites and tick-borne illnesses with these four steps:
- Prevent it:
It's smart to wear light-colored clothing and shoes during the summertime because they help keep you cooler -- and, as it turns out, they help you spot any ticks that may be crawling on you. Also, although it won't win you any fashion awards, tucking your pant legs into your socks can help minimize ticks crawling up your legs or into your shoes.
Insect repellents that contain DEET or permethrin can reduce your chances of tick bites. DEET products may be applied directly to exposed skin (not skin under your clothing) and to clothing, but should be used sparingly on kids -- look for products with about 20 percent DEET concentration, and apply it to your child's body, avoiding his or her face and hands. Permethrin should only be applied to clothing.
- Know Your Enemy
Ticks like to hang out in grassyor wooded areas, and they are especially fond of places that are moist orhumid.
- Be Vigilant with Tick Checks
Do a tick check on everyone in the family every night. Contracting a tick-borne illness can take up to 36 hours if a tick isn't removed, so you want to be prompt and thorough. The CDC recommends you check under the arms, between the legs, around the waist, inside the navel, and don't forget the hairline and scalp.
- Treat it:
Tick removal isn't complicated but there is a technique. Use fine-tipped tweezers, not your bare fingers, to detach the tick. Hold the tick in the tweezers (get as close to the skin as you can) and pull upwards. Be as steady as you can, as twisting and turning could cause the tick's mouth to break off under the skin (if that happens, use your tweezers to remove it). That's it -- it's out! Disinfect the area and you're done.
Bites & Stings
Planning to spend time outside means planning to spray yourself and your kids with insect repellent -- repellents don't kill insects, but they can help reduce bites from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other bothersome bugs.
- Prevent it:
There are different types of repellents: those that contain DEET and those that don't. Use insect repellents containing DEET on kids sparingly. Never use repellent on infants and check the levels of DEET in formulas before applying to older kids -- DEET can be toxic. Repellents with 10 to 30 percent concentrations of DEET can be used on exposed skin, clothing, and shoes but do not apply it to faces or hands. If you want to avoid DEET, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends repellents that contain picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus, both are non-toxic and able to reduce mosquito bites just as well as formulas with low levels of DEET.
- Treat it:
It's best to scrape a stinger away in a side-to-side motion with a straight-edged object like a credit card. Don't use tweezers because it may push more venom into the skin. After removing a stinger, wash the area with soap and water. You can apply ice or another cold compress to help reduce swelling.
Oral OTCantihistamines can bring itch relief. Oral OTC drugs, such as ibuprofen andacetaminophen, can provide relief of pain from bites and stings.
In addition, there are many topical OTC drugs that are applied to the skin and can provide itch and pain relief. Some of these topical OTC drugs are labeled as "external analgesics" or "topical analgesics." They contain ingredients such as hydrocortisone, pramoxine, and lidocaine. There are also topical OTC drugs labeled as "skin protectants" that provide itch relief for insect bites and stings. These products contain ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal and sodium bicarbonate.