It’s summer! Whether you’re hitting the beach or trekking the great outdoors, you will want to make your children’s health and safety a priority. Read on for tips on a safe summer season.
Observe Water Safety Rules
If your kids are dipping their toes in the ocean, lake or pool, follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
* Never leave children unsupervised around water.
* Use caution with inflatable swimming devices such as water wings, toys and rafts. These devices often provide a false sense of security and should never be used as life preservers. Approved life preservers fit securely and should be worn at all times while on boats or near bodies of water.
* Teach children to avoid diving into water until they have checked with an adult who knows if the water depth is safe for diving.
Before venturing out on the ocean, teach children about rip current safety. If caught in a rip current, kids should swim parallel to the shore until the current is gone, and then swim towards the shore. Make sure they know they must obey lifeguards and posted rules, and have them swim near lifeguard posts.
When poolside, double-check that rescue equipment and a telephone are within close proximity. Check your local building regulations regarding pool enclosures. Often a fence at least four feet high is required around all sides of the pool. Pool locks and gate latches should be at heights that small children are unable to reach. Use extra caution with inflatable pools, as children may fall in accidentally by leaning into collapsible sidewalls.
Avoid Swimming Complications
Swimmers ear, also known as otitis externa, may occur when bacteria begin to grow in the ear canal for an extended period of time. Symptoms include itching and pain. If these symptoms occur, kids should avoid swimming and be seen by their primary care provider.
Eye irritation may occur from excessive exposure to chlorine. Rinsing eyes with warm water after swimming may help to remove chemical irritants. If swimming in a home pool, make sure the pH is at an appropriate level.
Be Smart About the Sun
Sun exposure is one of the best sources of vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium and grow strong bones. However, a little sunlight goes a long way, and sun protection during the summer months is essential.
With babies under six months of age, avoiding sun exposure is always the best option. The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) and the AAP recommend placing babies in the shade, dressed in wide-brimmed hats, lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts. If shade and appropriate clothing are not an option, apply a small amount of sunscreen to the face and the backs of hands.
Older children should also stay in the shade when possible and limit their sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Encourage kids to wear hats, sunglasses and clothing with a tight weave. Loose-weave clothing, such as sports jerseys, may increase skin exposure and sunburn risk.
Lather up with sunscreen on sunny and cloudy days. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater that protects against UVA and UVB rays. This type of sunscreen is often marketed as “broad-spectrum.” Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming and/or sweating.
If your child is on any medication, double-check with your pharmacist or healthcare provider about the risk of sun exposure. Some medications may increase sun sensitivity.
If your child gets a sunburn, offer a cool bath or cool compresses and apply aloe vera to sunburned areas to help with pain. If your child’s sunburn is severe or blisters develop, contact your provider.
Beat the Heat
As the temperature rises, babies are unable to regulate their body temperatures as adults do. Additionally, the inside of a car can reach dangerously high temperatures in the summer heat. Young children die from unintentionally being left in hot cars every summer. Remember to check that all kids are out of the backseat when you arrive at your final destination. Never leave a child in a car, even for a few minutes.
For older children, the AAP suggests the following.
* Limit activities that last 15 minutes or longer if heat and humidity are at very high levels. Encourage kids participating in outdoor activities to take a break every 20 minutes.
* Have kids wear lightweight and light-colored clothing. Limit clothing to one layer with materials that encourage sweat evaporation. Replace sweat-saturated shirts with dry clothing.
* If children report feeling dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated, move to cooler temperatures.
You may wonder if babies need to drink extra water in the summer heat. It’s important to remember that from birth to six months of age, babies get all of the water they need from breast milk or formula and don’t need extra water, even if it’s very hot outside.
Encourage older children to drink water or sports drinks prior to activities and when physically active. You should monitor for signs of dehydration — including a dry mouth, lack of tears when crying, decreased urine or wet diapers and fatigue or dizziness in older kids.
Check the Forecast
When thunder roars, it’s time to go indoors. Thunderstorms and lightning can occur with little warning in summer months, and it’s important to be cautious during extreme weather conditions when playing outdoors. Check local forecasts prior to any outdoor activities, and recognize signs of a storm, including dark clouds and increased wind.
Discuss safe shelter options and teach children to avoid trees, metal bleachers and dugouts. Ideally, safe shelters should have four walls. If indoors, avoid open windows, toilets and tubs. If an indoor shelter isn’t available, take shelter in a hardtop vehicle. If you are outside without shelter, avoid standing near water or open fields.
If your child is participating in outdoor activities or athletics, consider downloading helpful apps such as WeatherBug or NOAA Weather Radar. These apps offer information on heat indexes and lightning strikes based on your location.
Protect Against Insect Bites
The Zika virus continues to be a hot topic, and many parents want to know the best ways to decrease their child’s risk of exposure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends limiting Zika exposure by preventing mosquito bites. The following tips decrease the risk of bites or stings from a variety of insects, including mosquitoes known to carry the Zika virus.
* Avoid outdoor activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are more active.
* Dress your child in a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, socks and closed-toe shoes and a broad-brimmed hat.
* Avoid bright colors, flowery prints and heavily scented soaps and perfumes, as they may attract insects.
* Cover your baby’s stroller or carrier with mosquito netting.
Insect repellents only protect against biting insects such as biting flies, and offer no protection against stinging insects such as bees and wasps. Chemical repellents that have DEET are often the best defense against biting insects, but should be used with caution in kids. The AAP recommends that no more than 30 percent DEET be used on children. Avoid DEET products in children younger than two months. Other repellents made from essential oils found in plants, such as eucalyptus, may be used as an alternative repellent in children older than three years of age.
When applying any type of insect repellent, spray in open areas to avoid breathing in chemicals. Use only enough repellent to cover your child’s clothing and exposed skin, and never spray repellent directly on your child’s face. Spray on you hands and then rub on your child’s face. Avoid the eyes, mouth and any cuts or irritated skin. When your child returns indoors, wash skin with soap and water to remove any repellent, and wash clothing before it is worn again.
The CDC also suggests making your backyard a tick-safe zone by removing leaf litter, clearing tall grasses, mowing the yard frequently and discouraging unwelcome animals like deer and raccoons by placing fences around your yard. Check your child’s skin for ticks at the end of the day. Remove any ticks with tweezers. Seek medical care if part of the tick remains on the skin after removal, a fever or rash develops or the area looks infected.
Honeybee or yellow jacket strings may also be common in the summer. These stings may produce redness, swelling and pain at the site. Hydrocortisone cream may be used for the itching, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help relieve pain.
Learn About Poisonous Plants
Exposure to poison ivy, oak or sumac can often occur while playing outside in the summer months. If your child comes into contact with any of these “leaves of three,” wash any exposed area with warm, soapy water. Additionally, wash clothes and shoes that may have been exposed, as the oils can spread from these surfaces. Remember also to give a bath to any four-legged friends that may have come into contact with the plant oils.
If your child gets a rash after coming into contact with these poisonous plants, keep the following tips in mind.
* An oatmeal bath, cool compresses, calamine lotion or over-the-counter products such as one-percent hydrocortisone cream or an oral antihistamine may help with itching.
* Keep hands clean and nails trimmed to avoid increased risk of infection from scratching.
* If your child has a fever, signs of infection or cannot sleep due to the itch, seek advice from your provider.
Summer is a great time for your family to enjoy warm weather and the great outdoors. Be active, have fun and stay safe!
Audra N. Rankin, DNP, APRN, CPNP, is an instructor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore.