Summer is a time for fun: vacations, swimming, ball games, picnics and trips to the emergency room. WAIT! Let’s work on avoiding the latter. This summer, almost 3 million children will visit the ER for treatment of trauma and almost 2,000 of them will die from their injuries. Simple preventive measures and close supervision can reduce this number. Think safety whenever you and your children are around water, riding in the car, playing sports, out in the sun or around fires.
WATER: Water safety is critical. Annually, 3,000 children are seen in ERs for submersion injuries and more than 200 will die from drowning. Never allow your children to play around water without adult supervision. Rough play around water should be forbidden. Even if your child is a swimmer, never assume he can swim well enough to save himself.
CAR: Always wear your seatbelts and buckle your children tightly into their seats, boosters or car seats. One of the most avoidable car-related injuries in the summer is when a child is left unattended in a hot car. Almost certainly at least one child will die in a hot car this year. Never leave a child unattended in a car, even for a few minutes.
SUN: Everyone is at risk for skin cancer. Even one bad sunburn as a child can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. People with light hair or skin color are especially susceptible to sun damage. For maximum sun protection, try to avoid the brightest part of the day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is a must and don’t forget to reapply it often. Wear wide-brimmed hats and protective clothing. The heat also can lead to dehydration. Be sure children drink plenty of water and come inside to cool off often.
INSECTS: Bugs enjoy the outdoors as much as we do and regard the space as their own. If you spend much time outside, especially in tall grass or in the woods, you’re susceptible to insect bites. Ticks and mosquitoes carry several diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and West Nile virus. For children older than 2 months, it is safe to use insect repellants containing no more than 30 percent DEET. Make sure to apply the repellant to clothing, as well. To avoid bee stings, wear light-colored clothing, avoid scented soaps and perfumes and don’t leave food uncovered.
FOOD: Always remember to wash your hands before handling food—especially after using the restroom. Make sure to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Don’t leave food out for more than one hour if the temperature is 90-plus degrees and never longer than two hours regardless of temperature. Wash fruits and veggies well and never defrost and refreeze foods.
SPORTS: It’s important to wear proper protective equipment when playing sports. While I never encourage playing on a trampoline, if your children insist, don’t allow them to perform somersaults and be sure they jump one at a time. Children younger than 6 should never get on a trampoline.
FIRE: Several thousand children will be treated in ERs for injuries involving fireworks. Stick to public fireworks displays handled by professionals.
While no one plans to get burned, eat toxic foods, get an insect bite or sunburn, we all can plan to avoid these traumas. I hope these tips lead you to a safe and fun summer with your children and grandchildren.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services, mercy.net.