Hiking, biking and swimming – summer is an ideal time for enjoying the great outdoors with your kids. But the fun can be ruined by injuries, sunburns, bug bites and more. Sarah Favila, M.D., pediatrician at the Sutter Medical Foundation in Davis, offers tips to keep kids healthy and safe while having summer fun.
Build a First Aid Kit
Dr. Favila recommends keeping these items in a first aid kit:
- Sunscreen (broad spectrum with a minimum SPF 30)
- Band-Aids (various sizes)
- Instant ice pack
- Alcohol wipes
- ACE bandage wrap
- Tylenol or Motrin
Cuts and Scrapes
Dr. Favila says the best way to prevent infections from cuts and scrapes is to clean the area immediately, using water and either alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. After cleaning, bandages and antibiotic ointments are helpful to keep the area clean and dry.
“Whether or not your child needs stitches depends on a lot of factors, including the depth and location of the cut, and if there is enough skin to suture together,” she says. “Contact your pediatrician to discuss if you are concerned your child may need stitches.”
To reduce scarring, keep the area clean, protected and avoid sun exposure. If there is spreading redness or discharge, see a doctor, as these are signs of infection.
Twists and Strains
RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) is recommended for treating and soothing minor ankle, knee or wrist twists or strains as long as your child is not in severe pain or having trouble using the affected extremity.
You should consult your pediatrician if your child is having trouble using the injured extremity, has severe pain or it has not improved with RICE. An X-ray may be recommended.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 6 months old avoid direct sunlight and all sun exposure. To protect them from the sun, dress them in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats.
For older children, a minimum of SPF 30 sunscreen should be used daily and sun exposure should be avoided during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other sun protection tips for children include reapplying sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating, and wearing clothing with tightly-woven fabric.
If your child is sunburned, Dr. Favila recommends using cool compresses, calamine lotion or aloe vera-based gels to relieve pain. If the sunburn is severe – extensive blistering, severe pain, fever, headache – contact your pediatrician.
Fireworks, Stove and Grill Burns
The number one thing a parent can do to prevent burns is to always have a responsible adult present, Dr. Favila says. Never leave a hot stove or grill unattended, and attend community fireworks displays run by professionals rather than using at-home fireworks.
“If a child gets a burn, the area can be cooled with room temperature water and should be cleaned,” she says. “However, contact your doctor’s office to discuss the burn further and whether your child needs to be seen.”
Immediately seek medical attention if the burn is extensive, if there is severe and extensive blistering, or if your child has extreme pain, fever, headache, nausea or vomiting.
If there is a fire – even if there is no evidence of a burn – your child should be immediately evaluated if he or she has been exposed to smoke or flames.
Safety Gear and Head Bumps
Helmets and other safety gear are always a must when your kids are biking, skateboarding, rollerblading or scooting. The helmet should fit and be worn properly at all times, and you should always replace a damaged helmet.
If your child takes a tumble and hits his head – whether or not he is wearing a helmet – watch him closely to decide if you need to take your child to the doctor.
Preventing Heat Exhaustion
“Heat exhaustion is the inability of the body to keep up (most notably, heart function) due to heat and strenuous physical activity,” Dr. Favila explains. “Dehydration is one of the main risk factors. It is so important to always keep children hydrated, but especially when they are going to be outside and engaging in physical activity.”
You can help prevent children from getting heat exhaustion by:
- Limiting intense outdoor activities in high heat and humidity.
- Having them drink lots of fluids before outdoor physical activities.
- Making them take frequent breaks while active in the heat and making them drink water during those breaks.
- Dressing them in light-colored and lightweight clothing.
There are many signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, including fast heart rate, extreme weakness, dizziness, light-headedness, profuse sweating, headache, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, dehydration and loss of consciousness.
If you think your child has heat exhaustion, have him stop physical activity and move to a cool environment and drink fluids. “Heat exhaustion can be severe or ultimately lead to heat stroke,” Dr. Favila says. “So if your child is not responding well or looks very sick, call 911.”
The best treatment for poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac is avoidance. Learn to identify toxic plants and wear protective clothing. Remember to stay away from plants you’re unfamiliar with, especially if they have three leaflets – “Leaves of three, let it be!”
After an exposure, remove contaminated clothing and wash skin with mild soap and water, remembering to clean fingernails and family pets as well, she says. Once the rash presents with redness and itching, soothing treatments such as oatmeal baths, cool compresses and calamine lotion can provide relief.
“If the itch is overwhelming, Benadryl may provide relief,” she says. “And if the rash gets extremely red, irritated, spreads to the face or there is discharge, your child may benefit from oral medication, such as antibiotics or steroids.”
Dr. Favila says you can protect your kids from getting bug bites by:
- Covering up with long sleeved shirts, pants and socks when outdoors in the evenings.
- Staying away from areas where insects congregate, such as stagnant water and gardens.
- Not using scented soaps and perfumes.
- Avoiding wearing bright colors or flowery prints.
- Using DEET insect repellents.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends DEET insect repellents for children older than 2 months of age,” Dr. Favila says. “Look for insect repellents containing 10 to 30 percent DEET. Ten percent DEET will provide protection for around two hours and 30 percent provides protection for around five hours. Sunscreen and DEET combination products are not recommended. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours. However, excess exposure to DEET can be dangerous (from skin rash to neurologic damage). DEET should not be reapplied and should be washed off when back indoors or protection is no longer required.”
If your child has a tick, it should be removed, she says. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible, pull straight up gently but firmly with a steady pressure. Clean the area after removal and monitor your child closely for the development of a rash – a bull’s-eye rash raises concern for Lyme disease.
“After a mosquito or spider bite, as always, monitor your child closely then clean the area,” Dr. Favila advises. “If you believe it was from a poisonous spider, or if the bite becomes very red, swollen, there’s pus discharge or your child is in extreme discomfort, contact your pediatrician.”
Honeybee, Wasp and Yellow Jacket Stings
Scrape out the stinger as quickly as possible with your fingernail or a credit card if your child is stung by a honeybee, wasp or yellow jacket. Pinching and squeezing the stinger will only inject more venom into the sting site.
Dr. Favila recommends using cool compresses, pain medication and an antihistamine (such as Zyrtec) to soothe your child after a sting.
“If your child experiences swelling, stomach pain, an itchy throat or a full-body rash, head to the nearest medical facility for care,” she says, “This could indicate a severe allergic reaction that absolutely requires immediate medical attention. If you can’t get your child to a hospital, call 911.”
After a dog bite, immediately clean the area and find out if the dog is vaccinated and can be observed, then call your pediatrician.
“Depending on depth and location of the bite, tetanus or rabies status, your child may need to be seen by a doctor right away,” Dr. Favila says. “If you don’t know if the dog has rabies, your child will likely need rabies post-exposure prophylaxis in a timely manner.”
Swimmer's Ear and Water Safety
Swimmer’s ear is inflammation and infection of the external ear canal. Its signs and symptoms include ear pain, ear discharge and hearing loss. It can also cause pain when your child’s ear is moved.
“Swimmer’s ear is seen with frequent swimming, water exposure and excessive ear cleaning,” Dr. Favila says. “The ear is self-cleaning; cotton-tipped applicators do not need to be used to clean the ear canal. If you suspect your child has swimmer’s ear, please make an appointment with your pediatrician, as your child will likely need antibiotic ear drops.”
If your child swims frequently, you can also have them shake their ears dry after swimming or wear ear plugs made for swimming, she says.
There are also several things you can do to increase your children’s safety when they play in different bodies of water including pools, rivers, lakes and oceans. Check out 10 Tips for Water Safety to learn more.