By Gail BelskyFrom Your Family Today
Having fun in the sun can pose serious health risks for kids -- especially if you haven't taken the necessary precautions. But with a little knowledge, you can help keep your family safe all summer long. Here's what you need to know to be prepared to handle some of the most common summer health hazards.
Summer Safety Risk No. 1: Heat Exhaustion
When kids are exposed to heat for extended periods of time, their bodies can get overheated. Sweating helps cool them down, but if you don't replace the fluids they've lost, they may get sick and even develop heatstroke, a life-threatening condition.
Kids drink only half the amount of water they need, and three-fourths of parents don't know how to prevent their kids from getting dehydrated, according to the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. The signs of heat exhaustion in kids are dizziness, stomach or leg cramps, flushed cheeks, irritability and fainting.
- Prevent it: Make sure your kids drink water or a sports beverage every 20 minutes during outdoor play. (Kids younger than 5 need half a glass; older ones need a full glass.) Keep kids in a cool environment as much as possible. Air-conditioning is the greatest protection against heat-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Treat it: If your kids show symptoms of heat exhaustion, bring them into a cool environment immediately and have them drink cool liquids.
Summer Safety Risk No. 2: Sunburn
It takes as little as 15 minutes for the sun's UV rays to burn unprotected skin, and once they do, there's no way to reverse the effects, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sunburn symptoms include redness, pain, blisters, fever, chills, weakness and swollen skin.
Kids who are fair tend to burn faster than those with darker hair and skin, but all children are at risk if they're not adequately protected. In addition to the short-term symptoms, childhood sunburn can lead to serious long-term conditions, including skin cancer.
- Prevent it: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying enough sunscreen to coat all exposed skin 15 minutes before your kids go outside, plus a lip balm with an SPF of 30. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB light. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen even if it's not sunny. (Eighty percent of the sun's rays penetrate clouds.) Try to limit sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Treat it: Give your kids a cool bath or shower, or put wet, cold washcloths on their burn. If they don't have blisters, apply moisturizing cream to relieve discomfort, but avoid products that contain benzocaine, lidocaine or petroleum. In the case of blisters, covering the area with dry bandages may prevent infection. For pain, you can give kids ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), but never aspirin.
Summer Safety Risk No. 3: Water Submersion and Drowning
Drowning is the second leading cause of death among kids 14 and younger. And for every child who dies, four more are treated in emergency rooms for near-drowning injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of these cases require hospitalization or higher-level care, and some result in brain damage and disabilities.
- Prevent it: Make sure the swimming facility has lifeguards. Otherwise, you or another adult should provide constant supervision. (With preschool kids, you need to be within arm's length when they're in the water in order to provide "touch supervision.") If you're visiting people with a pool, ask if they have pool fencing. (Four-sided fencing that's at 4 feet high offers the best protection.) Even if they do, make sure you know where your kids are at all times, keeping young children in sight. And whenever you go boating, put a proper-sized life vest on your kids.
- Treat it: If a child isn't breathing after a near-drowning accident, perform CPR and call 911. The sooner you can get the child to the emergency room, the better his chances of survival and full recovery are, according to the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.
By taking the proper precautions, you can help insure a safe, happy and healthy summer for your entire family.
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