More sunlit hours in the summer day means more time to play for kids, but for many parents, it means more time to worry. With the increased freedom and activity in summer vacation, comes the potential for increased minor mishaps and serious injuries.
Devote a bit of precautionary forethought now to the most common situations your children face in summer, and your family will sail right through in good health, injury-free. Here are five important areas that deserve your attention to keep your kids safe and active through their much-anticipated summer break.
1) Helmet Safety
You always make sure your child’s head is protected during contact sports, but other recreational activities such as inline skating, skateboarding, horseback riding and bicycling also require vigilant helmet use.
Without proper protection, accidental collisions or falls from as little as two feet can cause concussions, skull fractures and other traumatic brain or head injuries. In fact, the leading cause of death from sports-related injuries is traumatic brain injury. “Sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents,” according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Take a look at the number of estimated head injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2009 for these popular summer activities:
• Cycling: 85,389
• Skateboards/scooters: 23,114
• Horseback riding: 14,466
• Roller and inline skating: 3,320
Sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents
Close to 88 percent of head injuries can be prevented through proper usage of helmets. But of the 50 percent of U.S. children between ages 5 and 14 who do own a helmet, only 25 percent report always wearing it while bicycling. This explains why, according to Safe Kids USA, “More children from ages 5 to 14 are seen in emergency rooms for biking-related injuries than from any other sport.”
What can you do?
Always buy your children sport-specific helmets or protective headgear approved by the ASTM, an international standards organization. The agency’s vigorous testing standards ensure that a helmet bearing the ASTM-approved sticker can be trusted. Be sure to find the proper fit for maximum protection. Your child’s helmet should fit snugly but comfortably without tilting backward or forward.
Let your child pick out the color and design he or she likes best, and adopt a family motto: “No helmet, no wheels.” Lead by example, and always wear your own helmet.
2) Bug Safety
Our chances of being infected with insect-carried diseases, such as Lyme, West Nile, chikungunya and Powassan, increase during active summer months. Not only do we have biting insects to worry about (mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, chiggers), but also the threat from stinging insects like wasps, bees and hornets.
What can you do?
Choose the type of insect repellent that is most effective and easy to use for your children, be it a chemical or natural formula. DEET is a chemical commonly used in insect repellents, and studies show that products with amounts of about 24 percent last an average of 5 hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends repellents used on children should contain no more than 30 percent DEET, and repellents should never be used on infants younger than 2 months.
A Consumer Reports survey found that newer products made with plant-like chemicals are often more effective than those that contain DEET and contain fewer side effects.
• Apply only enough insect repellent to cover your child’s clothing and exposed skin.
• Spray repellent on your hands and then rub it on your child’s face.
• Wash your children’s skin with soap and water to remove repellent when they return indoors, and launder their clothing.
• Check your children’s skin and clothing for ticks, and shower them within 2 hours of coming indoors.
Watch for flu-like symptoms or muscle stiffness that may indicate a bug-borne illness such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis or West Nile. If you hear of instances in your area, and your child has bites and flu-symptoms, contact your family doctor immediately.
3) Sun Safety
Did you know you can sunburn in less than 15 minutes? Overexposure to ultraviolet rays causes the red skin of sunburn that is often accompanied by pain and blistering. If exposure is severe enough, second-degree burns are possible.
It’s especially important to protect your children from sunburn. Sunburns that occur in childhood predispose children to developing melanoma later in life. The Skin Cancer Foundation cautions, “Sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.”
What can you do?
• Choose a water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen made for children that offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays with a sun protection factor (SPF) value of 30 or higher.
• Apply liberally 30 minutes before sun exposure so it has time to absorb into your child’s skin.
• Reapply every two hours and after kids swim or sweat.
• Use zinc oxide on the nose, cheeks and tops of the ears.
• If your child gets a sunburn that results in blistering, pain or fever, contact your family doctor
• Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight, dressed in cool, comfortable clothing and wearing hats with brims.
Sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.
4) Water Safety
Nothing says “summer” like family trips to swimming pools, water parks, lakes and beaches. Sadly, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in children ages 1 to 4, and it can happen fast.
What can you do?
• Watch children at all times when in or near water. Children may drown in only an inch or two of water.
• Don’t use your cell phone or laptop when supervising children near water. Even distractions like chatting with other parents can take your eyes off your children.
• Refresh your Infant Child CPR certification every year.
What can kids do?
The Red Cross advises that you teach children to always ask permission to go near water. “If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.” Enroll your kids in age-appropriate Red Cross water orientation and learn-to-swim courses.
Teach children to:
• Never swim alone.
• Dive off the diving board, never the side of the pool, and only in 12 feet or more of water.
• Always wear a Coast-Guard-approved life jacket on a boat.
• Swim parallel to the shore if caught in an ocean rip current and then swim diagonally back to shore when the water stops pulling them.
• Stop swimming as soon as they see or hear an electrical storm.
If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
5) Dog Safety
Even though your children may have trusted dogs of their own at home, summer often brings them into contact with unfamiliar dogs that pose a threat. Dogs bite over 4 million people every year, nearly 800,000 of these injuries require hospital visits, and close to one half of these patients are children.
Some studies show that boys ages 5 to 9 receive five times more dog bites than any other group due to their loud and energetic actions. Because a dog is more likely to bite children he doesn’t know while protecting his territory, it’s crucial to teach your children how to handle unfamiliar dogs.
What can kids do?
• Don’t approach unfamiliar dogs without the owner’s permission.
• Always let a dog sniff you before petting it.
• Never scream at or run from a dog.
• Do not disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping, injured or caring for puppies.
• Avoid hugging, kissing or any activity that puts your face close to the dog’s face.
Dogs bite over 4 million people every year, nearly 800,000 of these injuries require hospital visits, and close to one half of these patients are children.
What if your child is bitten?
If the skin is punctured, seek medical attention immediately. The bacteria from a dog’s mouth can enter the wound and cause infection, even days later.
You may want to report the bite to your local health department to determine if the dog is current on vaccinations, as well as to your local animal control officer. This establishes a record that allows the officials to track a potentially dangerous dog. Chances are very good that nothing but fun times in the summer sun await you and your family. Now that you know some of the most common things to watch out for, let the summer fun begin!
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