For many families, summer brings a more relaxing pace with camps and vacations replacing school and after-school activities. Longer days and relaxed bedtimes can also mean more time to play outside.
However, with all the fun also comes opportunities for injury and illness that caregivers may not have to consider during the rest of the year as routines change. Here’s a look at some of the most common ailments pediatricians see during the summer months and how to protect your kids.
Heat and humidity rise in the summer, posing severe risks to children, whose bodies cannot cool themselves as efficiently as adults. Infants and young children are at an increased risk of overheating and experiencing heat-related illnesses.
It’s vital to keep kids cool and hydrated. First, make sure children drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Don’t wait until your child indicates they are thirsty before you offer them a drink, according to Anastasia Gentles, M.D., practice medical director of NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care, part of Pediatrix® Medical Group, in Sugarland, Texas, who notes water is always best.
Dr. Gentles suggests parents monitor the color of their child’s urine in hot weather to look for signs of dehydration. The darker yellow, the more concentrated the urine is, meaning the child is not well hydrated and should drink water. Not peeing regularly is a warning sign of severe dehydration.
It’s also important that your children are dressed appropriately for the temperature. Doctors recommend dressing infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing when spending time outside. Try to schedule your outdoor activities for the times of day when temperatures are going to be more moderate — early morning and evening — and seek out shade or provide a place out of the sun where kids can cool off.
It’s critical to learn the signs of heat-related illness, some of which may be surprising:
- High body temperature.
- Excessive sweating.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- A fast pulse.
- Hot, red, dry or damp skin.
- Losing consciousness.
- Tiredness or weakness.
- Muscle cramps or spasms.
Seek medical care immediately if your child is exhibiting symptoms. You can learn more on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.
Children and adults need protection from the sun’s dangerous rays whenever they’re outdoors, regardless of the temperature or whether it is cloudy or how dark their natural skin tone may be. Even a few minor sunburns can raise their risk of later developing certain skin cancers.
“Everybody needs sunscreen,” emphasized Dr. Gentles.
Whenever you venture outside, use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, she encouraged. Apply 30 minutes before going outside to all exposed skin and reapply every two hours.
If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants or long skirts to provide additional protection. Many clothes-makers offer lightweight clothing with additional built-in sun protection. Also, don’t forget a hat and sunglasses. Eyes are vulnerable to UV rays as well.
Again, avoid going out at midday, if possible, to avoid the sun’s strongest rays. If you can’t, make sure to seek out or create shade.
Don’t let these precautions scare you off from spending time outside, Dr. Gentles urged, noting it’s important for kids’ mental health and their vitamin D levels. Just make sure to do it safely.
Summer often means time spent at the pool, lake or beach. No matter what type of body of water you’re enjoying, it’s important to closely supervise your children at all times, particularly younger children. According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, excluding causes related to birth defects.
Drowning can happen in only seconds and is often silent, Dr. Gentles noted. Even if children have had swimming lessons, it’s important to keep a close eye on them any time you’re near water. Make sure a lifeguard is on duty, or an experienced swimmer is always monitoring children in and around the water.
If you have or are vacationing at a place that has a pool, make sure it is fully fenced in and remove all toys from the pool when not in active use, so they don’t entice a child to reach into the pool to retrieve them. Also, keep doors closed and secured so a child cannot wander outside unsupervised near the pool.
If you’re enjoying a day on the water, ensure your child has a properly fitted life jacket and is always wearing it. Other flotation devices do not provide the same level of support and are not a substitute for a life jacket.
If you’re at the beach or on a river or lake, familiarize yourself with any natural hazards like the tides, the undertow and underwater formations, such as rocks, that could cause injury.
You can learn more about how to help prevent drowning on the CDC’s website.
Bodies of water can also present opportunities to contract illnesses caused by germs and chemicals. Use swim diapers, take regular bathroom breaks and check diapers frequently. The pool deck is not a good place to change diapers. Use the bathroom or changing area instead to limit potential germs.
Vacations and trips to visit family and friends are a hallmark of summertime. However, travel also calls for additional considerations.
Dr. Gentles notes that summer and travel tend to break us out of our regular routines, which can have repercussions for safety.
“You may be very good about safety precautions and monitoring things at home but those you are visiting may not have kids or may not have had kids at home in a long time,” said Dr. Gentles. “They may not have taken the same measures you have at home.”
Further, rental properties and hotels may not have the same safeguards in place.
If you are traveling with others or staying at someone else’s home, check for child safety precautions. In addition to ensuring pools and hot tubs are secured, make sure medications and hazardous chemicals are not within reach of children and that physical safety precautions you would normally take at home, like gates across stairs, are in place wherever practical.
If you’re traveling by car, your child should be securely strapped in a properly fitted car seat, booster seat or seatbelt that is appropriate for their size and age. The back seat is the safest place for children to ride. In addition, children in rear-facing car seats and those under 13 years or shorter than 4’9” should never be placed in the front seat, especially if it has an airbag. If you’re traveling in a rental car, reserve the type of car seat or booster your child requires or make plans to bring your own. Don’t forget, kids need protection in rideshare vehicles too!
In the car, lock all doors when driving. Many vehicles have automatic child locks in the rear doors you can use so children can’t open the door from the inside. Keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids can’t get inside alone.
Finally, never leave children alone in the car, where they can be at risk of heat stroke or other injuries. Even if outside temperatures are low, cars can heat up rapidly.
When getting out of the car, check that everyone is accounted for, especially children who may have fallen asleep.
If you’re flying, use a car seat or other approved safety device for small children. If using a car seat, check the owner's guide to make sure it is approved for plane travel.
Longer days may mean more time on the playground. Always keep a watchful eye on small children, especially around playground equipment. Keep kids away from swings when they are in use by others and avoid riding double down slides to help prevent injury. Test metal equipment before kids start climbing to ensure it is not dangerously hot to the touch.
If you’re riding bikes, scooters or skateboards, make sure your child has appropriately sized equipment and helmet. Knee and elbow pads are also recommended.
More time outside can also mean more exposure to bugs and bug bites or stings. For children older than 2 months, use bug repellant containing no more than 30% DEET on clothing and exposed skin, making sure you avoid the eyes and mouth. Do not use a sunscreen with DEET since sunscreen should be applied often and DEET should only be used once a day. Bug repellant should not be used on infants under 2 months. It’s also wise to avoid using scented soaps, lotions and other personal-care products that may attract insects.
If your child is allergic to bees or other insects, carry appropriate medication when outside.
If you are in an area where ticks are prevalent, like the woods or fields with tall grasses, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tuck pants into socks for additional protection, and check everyone thoroughly when you arrive home.
Another summer hazard to watch out for is burns, according to Dr. Gentles.
“I see a lot of burns in the summertime,” she said, explaining that hot grills and barbeques pose a particular risk to toddlers who may wander over and touch a hot surface or the body of the grill.
Older kids are also at risk of burns. “I always recommend parents teach older kids basic cooking and fire safety rules — who to call, what to do, how to get out of the house — it’s important to know in an emergency, especially if they are going to be home alone,” she said.
We hope these tips help you and your loved ones have a happy and safe summer season.