Got kids? Make it a safe summer

Pediatric specialists share their Top 10 tips for injury prevention and food safety.
Any day of play should include plenty of water. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Each summer in the U.S., about 2.7 million children ages 14 and younger are treated in emergency rooms for accidental injuries.

Nearly 3,000 deaths result from these injuries.

More children are accidentally injured in the summer months than any other time of year, according to pediatric specialists at Spectrum Health. In the 14-and-under age group, in fact, about 42 percent of fatalities occur from May 1 to Aug. 31.

While summer should be packed with fun and excitement, it’s also an important time to be mindful of safety. By following some simple guidelines for injury prevention and food safety, you can keep youngsters happy and healthy.

Summer safety tips from the experts:

1. Stay out of cold water.

The air temperature is heating up, but your favorite swimming spots throughout the Great Lakes region can still be quite cold in the early summer. Temperatures can fluctuate dramatically from day to day.

To avoid hypothermia, resist the urge to swim until water temperatures rise to a safe swimming level, which is above 70 degrees.

2. Watch out for heat stroke.

If there’s any good thing about heat exhaustion, it’s this: The body provides ample warning when there’s an inkling of trouble.

“It’s something that does have some pretty good indicators,” said Jennifer Hoekstra, injury prevention coordinator at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

If your child’s play quickly goes from high-energy to lethargic and they become extremely flushed and short of breath, it’s a sign of trouble. Other warning signs include patchy blotches on the skin or an overall flushed appearance.

“Those are good indicators that it’s time to take a break, re-hydrate with water and find a shady spot to cool down,” Hoekstra said.

Know how to identify heat stroke and limit your exposure to high temperatures. If your child faints, appears dizzy or starts to speak nonsensically, it’s heralding something worse.

“It’s really concerning if your child faints,” Hoekstra said. “Then you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve gone from heat exhaustion to heat stroke.”

Most children don’t get to the heat stroke phase, as parents are quick to recognize trouble signs. “It’s really important when those initial signs start to come to re-hydrate and get out of the sun and cool off,” Hoekstra said.

3. Drink water, not soda.

You can’t stay properly hydrated by drinking alcoholic beverages and your little ones won’t stay properly hydrated on soda. Drink lots of water if you are going to be out in the heat and encourage children to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after play.

“Coke, coffee and teas are actually going to make us more dehydrated,” said Katie Boss, a registered dietitian at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. “Sometimes when we get that overall thirst, we want to quench it with something carbonated. But my recommendation is to always have a water bottle and carry it with you throughout the day.”

Boss, who specializes in pediatrics, said children should drink water above all else. “Juice is OK in moderation, especially 100 percent fruit juice, but I wouldn’t use it to hydrate,” she said. “I would use water to hydrate.”

Want to make that humdrum water snazzier for kids? Infuse it with fresh fruits and herbs. “You can soak it with mint, raspberries and strawberries, rather than having juice,” Boss said.

Remember that toddlers and young children can get swept up in the excitement of playtime, so they may not stop to express a need for water, Boss said. It’s incumbent on adults to provide periodic stops for hydration and watch for any subtle signs of overheating, such as dry lips.

4. Wait before you bite that peach.

Take time to properly wash any fruits or vegetables you purchase at local farm markets or roadside stands. These items may have been washed—or maybe not. You really don’t know what bacteria is lingering there.

“You don’t need to use soap or detergents,” Boss said. “Just water.”

This applies not only to ready-to-eat fruits like apples and pears, but also rind and skin fruits such as watermelon or avocado. You don’t know the history of a simple watermelon at the grocery store.

“You don’t know how many hands have touched it, or if it’s been on the ground,” Boss said. “Before you cut open any fruit or vegetable, make sure the skin is clean.”

5. Don’t leave kids alone in the car.

Never leave children unattended in a vehicle for any period of time whatsoever. Anywhere. Ever. This warning is simple and incredibly serious.

“Within 10 minutes, the inside temperature of a vehicle is 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature,” Hoekstra said. Within an hour, the temperature in a vehicle is more than 40 degrees hotter than outside temperatures. “It does not take a hot day for a child to reach dangerous temperatures in a vehicle.”

“Leaving your child alone in the car is not something people typically do on purpose—it’s often the result of a distraction or change of routine,” she said. “We encourage all parents and caregivers to create reminders for when children are backseat passengers.”

Leaving your phone in the backseat while you drive is a great technique. “As terrible as it sounds, we’ll all make a trip back to the car to look for our phone if we forgot it,” Hoekstra said.

Community members should keep an eye out for children left unattended in cars. Call 911 immediately if you see anything of the sort. That phone call “could be the difference between life and death,” Hoekstra said.

For more information go to noheatstroke.org and kidsandcars.org.

6. Pick out the right shades.

Always bring along sunglasses that provide adequate UV protection for you and your kids. Most brands have labels that indicate if they’re effective against the sun’s harmful rays.

According to the highest safety standards—a good approach when it involves kids—people should wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays.

“More and more sunglass companies are doing a better job of putting the sticker on there, to indicate the protection level,” Hoekstra said. “You want 100 percent block, in the perfect world.”

It’s quite simple: If you go to the dollar store and the sunglasses don’t have a sticker indicating the level of protection, don’t buy them—for you or your kids. You might have to shell out $15 or more for some adequate sunglasses for the kids, but it’s worth it in the long run.

7. Pause before sampling local cuisine.

If you or your family members have delicate tummies, you may want to think twice before indulging in unfamiliar foods—or even drinking water while on the road. No one wants to spend precious vacation time in a restroom.

“It’s hard to pinpoint why an upset stomach happens, because everyone’s GI track is different,” Boss said. A few universal guidelines for regional or seasonal foodstuff can keep you on the right track.

First off: Know what’s in a dish, especially if you’re eating at a buffet or sampling a casserole. “Take it with caution,” Boss said. “I try to look for dishes that are minimal on ingredients.”

When you’re aware of the ingredients, you’ll know when to politely refuse. “Fewer ingredients is better,” Boss said. “Steer clear of complex items.”

When it comes to buffets or community-type meals, don’t sample anything that has been sitting out longer than two hours, Boss said. When the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or above, that timeframe drops to one hour.

And keep an eye on food preparation. Said Boss: “Was it a safe area? Clean hands? If you’re serving hot foods, make sure they’re served hot, and cold foods are served cold.”

When in doubt, most packaged foods are a viable alternative to questionable local fare.

8. Know your prescriptions.

Many prescription drugs can trigger increased sensitivity to sunburn, as well as other possible side effects. Read all medication labels carefully before going outside.

The steps you take to protect your children are steps you should have been taking anyway, such as wearing sunscreen and staying properly hydrated, said Eric Stever, a clinical pharmacist at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital pharmacy.

“Antibiotics are usually the culprit with sun sensitivity,” Stever said. “The safety precaution is no different than anything else—make sure you’re using sunscreen that has SPF 30 or better.”

It’s also important for kids to stay adequately hydrated, Stever said, although that applies to all kids, medication or not. “Make sure they’re drinking water, and less in the way of soft drinks,” he said. “Avoid the sugar drinks for sure.”

If a medication has a sedating effect, it’s best a child stay indoors while the drug runs its course.

“Most of the kids that would be on anything that would be sedating would not be out playing anyway, if they’re laid up with an ailment,” Stever said. “That would be the main thing that comes to mind.”

Also, pay attention to the air quality on summer days, especially when your child is taking medication for asthma or respiratory problems. “We have a lot of problems in the summer with air quality and kids with asthma,” Stever said. “Make sure they’re compliant with their medications during the summer.”

On especially hot days when pollution is high—dubbed Action Days—it’s recommended that children stay indoors if they have asthma or breathing problems that can be exacerbated by pollution.

9. Be a water watcher.

Whether your child is in a backyard swimming pool, at a community center or in the ocean, always actively watch your child in and around water. Swimming pools are the most common site for drownings among children ages 4 and younger.

10. Always assume the fire is hot.

When is the campfire completely out? A good rule of thumb is to stay away from a fire pit for 24 hours after use. Coals don’t have to be glowing red to be hot.

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