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, they report, 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.
10: 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.
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.
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:
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 grassy or wooded areas, and they are especially fond of places that are moist or humid.
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.
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.
8: Pool Safety
They don't hang those "No running!" signs poolside for decoration. According to SafeKids, in 2006 more than 3,700 kids younger than 5 years old were injured in near-drowning incidents, and every year, more than 830 kids ages 14 and younger die due to unintentional drowning.
It should go without saying but we'll say it anyway: Never leave kids alone near the pool, no matter what their ages or swim capabilities are. Parents can and should take precautions around home pools, in addition to closely supervising kids while they swim. Installing fencing around pools, at least 5-feet high, all the way around and with a self-closing, self-latching gate, can prevent 50 to 90 percent of accidental drowning incidents. Pool and gate alarms -- they alert you to when the pool water becomes agitated and when the gate is opened -- add another layer of protection.
7: Playground Safety
More than 205,000 kids visit emergency rooms with playground-related injuries every year, estimates the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Many of these injuries could be prevented with a little precaution and adult supervision.
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.
6: Safe Rides
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. 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.
5: Poison Ivy
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 a poison ivy rash may include:
- Itchy skin
- Redness or red streaks
- Small bumps or hives
- Blisters that drain fluid when popped
The only way to avoid developing the rash is to avoid contact with these poisonous plants, but wearing clothing that covers a good amount of skin will help reduce your risk. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends home treatment for mild cases, including cool showers and oatmeal baths. If itching and swelling become moderate to severe, prescription medications can be used to reduce symptoms.
4: Food Poisoning
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 lot like the flu, and typically includes nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms can range from mild gastrointestinal discomfort to bloody stools.
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.
3: Heat-related Illness
Staying hydrated in hot weather can help reduce the risk of heat-related illness. Keep water or sports drinks (with electrolytes) on hand to maintain hydration, and try to stay in a shady or air-conditioned location during the hottest parts of the afternoon.
Mild symptoms -- heat exhaustion -- may include feeling thirsty, fatigue and cramps (legs or abdominal). If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke.
Heatstroke is serious. Symptoms may include any of the following: dizziness, trouble breathing, headaches, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, confusion and changes in blood pressure. Skin may be flushed and feel hot and dry (not sweaty). Body temperature may rise to 104 degrees F or higher, and as it becomes more severe, the risk of organ damage (to the liver, kidneys and brain) increases.
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.
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 avoid becoming dehydrated by reminding them to drink often throughout the day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends drinking about every 20 minutes if kids are active in sports, about five ounces is right for a kid weighing 88 pounds.
Water and sports drinks (drinks that contain electrolytes) are the best options for hydrating kids -- avoid sodas, juice and other fruit drinks. The National Alliance for Youth Sports recommends 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, watch out for high sugar content).
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, getting one blistering sunburn when you're a kid doubles your chances of developing melanoma.
Regardless of age and skin type (whether or not you burn easily), the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone, adults and kids alike, apply a water-resistant sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays every day of the year. Yes, even in winter and on cloudy days. Choose a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 and apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside.
When using sunscreen, apply as much as would fill a shot glass -- and if you're using both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply sunscreen first and then repellent.
Lots More Information
- 10 Ways to Eat Healthier
- 10 Healthy Breakfast Tips
- 5 Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin
- 10 Common Skin Irritants
- "Beat the Heat with Red Cross Safety Tips." American Red Cross. 2008.http://www.redcross.org/portal/site/en/menuitem.1a019a978f421296e81ec89e43181aa0/?vgnextoid=a69ff6c5fd47b110VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD
- "Childhood Injury Fact Sheet." National SAFE KIDS Campaign (NSKC). 2004.http://www.preventinjury.org/PDFs/CHILDHOOD_INJURY.pdf
- "CPSC Warns: Summer Fun Brings More Emergency Room Visits." U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2002.http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml02/02182.html
- "Dehydration." MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 2009.http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000982.htm
- "Drowning Prevention Fact Sheet." Safe Kids USA. 2009.http://www.safekids.org/our-work/research/fact-sheets/drowning-prevention-fact-sheet.html
- "Extreme Heat." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2004.http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/program.asp
- "Facts About Sunscreens." American Academy of Dermatology. 2010.http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_sunscreen.htm
- "Food Poisoning." The Children's Hospital-Denver Area, Colorado, Rocky Mountain Region. 2008.http://www.thechildrenshospital.org/wellness/info/kids/22037.aspx
- "For Parents." The Skin Cancer Foundation. 2010.http://www.skincancer.org/For-Parents/
- "Injury Prevention Issues & Topics of Interest: Playground Safety." Injury Free Coalition for Kids. 2010.http://www.injuryfree.org/safetytpc_display.cfm?PermanentId=ACE91B35-9F86-4159-B888B116BFB6A9FE
- "Insect Repellent Use and Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010.http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/qa/insect_repellent.htm
- "Measures to prevent bites from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other insects and arthropods." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009.http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/content/mosquito-tick.aspx
- National Alliance for Youth Sports. 2010.http://www.nays.org/
- "Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac." American Academy of Dermatology. 2008.http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/skin_poison.html
- "Public Playground Safety Handbook." Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2008.http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/325.pdf
- "Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - Prevention and Control." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2005.http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rmsf/Prevention.htm
- "Stop Ticks." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009.http://www.cdc.gov/features/stopticks/
- "Summer Safety Tip Sheet -- Part 1." American Academy of Pediatrics.http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/summertips.cfm