A Nurse's Gentle Reminder on How to Avoid Summertime Dangers for Kids
Summertime and fun go hand in hand, and most people don’t think their kids will get hurt or worse, but as a nurse I’ve seen so many tragedies and wanted to impart a gentle reminder about how to avoid summertime dangers for kids.
1. Drowning – Drowning is a year round problem because kids are naturally attracted to water but it’s more likely to happen in the summer. To avoid a drowning disaster if you have a pool, make sure you have a very tall privacy fence and a lock on your gates. I would add an alarm that would sound if the gate was opened. Teach children how to swim and not to go swimming alone or without adult supervision. If in a boat it is imperative they wear flotation devices in case they fall out or there is an accident. Teach kids to float when they are young and how to exit a pool in case they fall in unwitnessed. Remind kids at the beach of the danger of undertow which can pull them out very quickly into the ocean.
2. Poisoning - First of all know your National Poison Control Center number (NPCC) (1-800-222-1222) and keep it posted where everyone in your family or a babysitter can get to it easily. Kids can get into things they shouldn’t quickly and the NPCC handles an average one call every 14 seconds. Many plants are harmful and some even deadly. Household detergents that come in pods that resemble candy are a new danger for kids. Liquids like window cleaner which would certainly make a kid sick, might be mistake for soda. Antifreeze tastes sweet and even a little can kill a kid by destroying the liver. Be sure to have child protective latches on cabinets where chemicals are stored and if possible place them high in cabinets rather than under the sink. Never put chemicals in bottles that could be mistaken for water. If you do mix a cleaning solution be sure to label with every ingredient. Keep essential oils away from children. Medication, even Ex-lax can harm a child so keep them locked up rather than in a drawer or medicine cabinet.
3. Overheating – Overheating is a big problem in the summer months. Never leave your child in a car. Every year during hot months there are unnecessary deaths as parents leave children in a car. On an 80 degree day, temperatures inside a car can reach upwards of 140 degrees. Have kids wear light-weight, light-colored clothing. Kids need periods of rest when playing outside so plan for cartoon or nap time during the day. Know the signs of heat exhaustion versus heat versus heat stroke. I remember it like this “Wet-Exhaustion. Dry-Stroke”. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Symptoms include dry flushed skin, rapid heart rate, confusion or odd behavior, nausea and vomiting and can result in coma and death. If you suspect heat stroke go to the emergency room immediately.
4. Dehydration – Kids often get so busy they don’t stop to drink water, so here’s a little trick that actually works. Get each kid a water bottle and personalize with their name. Each time they come in to get water put a rubber band around their bottle and at the end of the day the kids who drank their quota get something special, an extra 15 minutes before bedtime, picking the bedtime story or family movie, or a treat. Sodas, tea and powerade drinks so not rehydrate and most contain too much sugar. There are much better natural solutions is water flavored infused with fruit or cucumber and you can even make drinking infused water a learning experience by showing them the videos by Macka B about the health benefits of cucumber.
5. Burns – Summertime means cookouts and camping and often kids get burned trying to help cook or eat. I can’t tell you how many times I have scorched the inside of my mouth on a hot S’more. Be careful with pot handles on the stove so that your child doesn’t pull off a pan with boiling water or hot food and get burned. Don’t put butter on a burn because removing it on a severe burn may mean pulling off skin or opening blisters. Be sure when treating a burn not to use ice which causes more skin damage. Use tepid water and aloe vera gel. If the burn covers a substantial area see a doctor since fluid loss and infection can be a problem. If you smoke don’t do it around your child.
6. Sunburn – Sunburns are extremely uncomfortable and can ruin summer vacation but there are ways to prevent. If you use sunscreen remember it must be put on an hour before sun exposure to work so don’t slather it on just before you go outside. Limit sun exposure or wear protective clothing like light weight cotton cover-ups. If you are a surfer you might want to consider surfwear that covers the shoulders or entire arm. Severe sunburn is a painful experience but the long term cost is skin damage and the danger of skin cancer. A little sun exposure is great for Vitamin D, but too much just isn’t smart. If you want a tan try skin bronzers rather than hours tanning.
7. Insect bites – Most insect bites are simply annoying unless a child has an allergy such as bee stings. If your child has a severe allergy always carry an epinephrine pen. You can apply meat tenderizer to lessen the pain and swelling. Mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile and Zika virus. If you are considering a trip to countries where Zika virus is a big problem you’ll want to take precautions. Wear protective clothing and protection with Deet which also protects against ticks which can carry several diseases such as Lyme and Powassan which can cause death from brain swelling.
8. Snake bites – Most snakes in North America are harmless with the exception of most with the exception of the coral snake, rattlesnake, copperhead and water moccasin. A bite from a poisonous snake needs medical attention. Snakes can be a problem even in the suburbs but if you are going to be out in a wooded area or near water, the problem is greater. Most snakes don’t want confrontation and but if you step on one you are likely to get bitten. Snakes like to sun on rock so if climbing make sure you look very closely before you place your hand in a crevice. If someone is bitten, keep them calm and clean the wound. Keep the affected area below the level of the heart if possible. Don’t apply a tourniquet or cut open the bites. Remove tight clothing or jewelry before swelling occurs. If you can safely capture the snake for purposes of identification do, otherwise, take a photo. Transport the person bitten to the hospital.
9. Jellyfish – Jellyfish stings are excruciating but I learned from someone that putting meat tenderizer on a sting takes away a lot of the pain. Why? Most meat tenderizers contain an enzyme called papain that helps break down the protein found in jellyfish venom and reduce swelling, pain, and itching.
10. Boating and other watercraft – Boating can be more dangerous than a car considering there are things under the water you may not be able to see. Always wear a life jacket and have your kids take a water safety course.
11. Motor vehicle accidents – Cars, scooters, three and four wheelers and motorcycles are all potential accidents waiting to happen. Number one, make sure everyone is buckled up properly and don’t drive distracted. When backing up check behind your care before you get in and start driving to make sure there are no kids or obstacles like tricycles or toys. Remember cars have a blind spot. If your child is old enough to ride a three or four wheeler teach them proper safety and remind them they are more likely to tip over because of their design, especially if driven top heavy or on uneven surfaces. If you allow your child to drive one, make sure they have a cell phone with them in order to call for help. I’ve taken care of children in ICU that turned over a three wheeler and sustained chest and head injuries and spent weeks in the hospital. They were 7 and 9-years old. My niece turned over a four wheeler and the break handle went through her thigh. Motorcycles and scooters are hard to see on the open road and often people pull out in front of them so always wear a helmet. I guarantee your head is not a match for the road or a curb.
12. Bicycle accidents – Bicycles accidents can occur anytime. Remember bicycles have to follow the same safety rules as cars. Never ride a bike at night without lights. Wear a helmet that has a flashing light on the back. You might consider putting bright LED lights on your bike for night riding. If you can't afford a bicycle for your kids there are organizations that can help.
13. Home injuries – The heat often drives kids indoors and there are all kinds of potential dangers in a home. Be sure kids aren’t playing with anything that can hurt them. If you have firearms or hunting knives, lock them up in a gun safe. Childproof electrical outlets if you have small kids. Don’t leave lighters lying around the house that kids might play with. Don’t leave alcohol out where kids can ingest.
14. Head injuries – Head injuries can usually be avoided if you use the right equipment for sports and when riding bicycles but you should know the warning signs of a head injury. Remember this mnemonic. PERRL: Pupils Equal, Round, Reactive to Light. If your child’s pupils aren’t equal that’s or they are sleepy and you cannot wake them up, go to the emergency room immediately.
15. Summer camp – Summer camps can great memories or be the worst experience of a kids’ life. As a camp nurse I’ve seen everything from kids falling off or being kicked by horses, fish hooks in ears and other body parts, snake bites, broken bones, head injuries, bee stings, ear infections, near drowning, asthma attacks from firework or campfire smoke, just to name a few. If you’re planning on sending your kid to camp make sure to check whether or not they have a qualified nurse on site. Make sure they have your emergency contact information as well as information on food and other allergies or a special diet. If your child is diabetic make sure extra snacks are available. If your child is on medication only send what the child will need and make sure it’s counted when you turn it over to the camp nurse.
16. Falls – Let’s face it kids are like monkeys when it comes to climbing and it often ends in broken bones. If taking your child to a park, make sure the ground coverage is soft and absorbs the shock of a fall. If you are going climbing use the proper shoes and safety equipment as well as headgear. As I mentioned I’ve worked in summer camps - both as a counselor and RN. My favorite go to homeopathics are comfrey or knit-bone and arnica until I can get a child to the ER. These homeopathics decrease swelling and pain. Comfrey can be used as a temporary cast. Arnica prevents bleeding into soft tissue.
17. Sports - Most schools start practicing for the school year, especially football, in the summer when it’s still very hot. Dehydration can be a factor and there have been known cases of kids having strokes due to throwing a blood clot, especially if they have sickle cell anemia. Muscle strain, tendonitis, back and neck injuries, and head injuries can occur in practice sessions. Make sure your child has the proper equipment and remains hydrated and be sure to get a complete physical before starting a sport.
18. Overdose – Drug use is on the rise across the nation and for kids who are using the risk of overdose and death is very real. Watch for signs such as mood changes or irritability, or secretiveness and don’t ignore them. It could mean the difference between life and death.
19. Suicide – Children experiencing unresolved emotional problems may seek attention by hurting themselves, cutting or attempting suicide. While there may be a lull in summer, the potential risk is still present.
20. Abduction – A parent’s worst nightmare would be having a child abducted and with the rise in use of social media there has been more attention to child abduction and human trafficking. Despite some reports to the contrary, there has been an increase. Be watchful of sites your child visits which you cannot oversee through parental controls. One such site is KIK used by kids because of greater anonymity from parents. Being vigilant and talking to my daughter about the dangers saved my daughter’s life when she was about 15 and someone pretending to be her age tried to lure her out of the house. She told me she had an odd feeling and I called the police. The “15-year-old” was really a 37 years old convicted sex offender. When my younger daughter was about 10 her friend was groped by a sex offender at a water park. The danger is real.
I have learned from raising two daughters as well as from my experience as a nurse that most injuries and safety hazards for children are entirely preventable if parents and family are aware of issues. Some you may not have considered which is why I decided to write this gentle reminder on how to avoid summertime dangers for kids. Have fun and enjoy your summer!