With summer officially here, it’s time for families to head for the hills, the beach, the mountains, and the great outdoors. With those treks come some real risks, as evidenced by recent news reports of a toddler perishing from a tick-borne illness, and another a victim of dry drowning and another with second degree burns from a sunscreen. So I wanted to provide some tips for all of you to help you enjoy a safer, healthier summer!
Ticks – WHAT: they thrive in the hot summer months, and with so much rain this year, their season for bugging us is prolonged. Ticks thrive in shaded cool moist areas like forest floors and also love to pole vault off of blades of grass. There is virtually no place in the continental US that doesn’t have ticks – WHY the worry? Ticks carry a variety of germs that can cause chronic illnesses like Lyme disease, acute life threatening illness like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and many more. Ticks can also bite certain strains of livestock, then a human, and induce an allergy to beef! So it’s important not to let us be their feeding ground.
HOW to protect yourself? When hiking, out in grassy or forested areas COVER UP! Wear long sleeves, lightweight long pants (tucked into your boots or socks) and put your hair up and wear a hat. Use DEET containing repellant on exposed areas – other preparations that claim efficacy simply do not. At the end of the day, it’s important to shower up, use a washcloth and rub down your skin (this can also dislodge a tick early), and have a loved one inspect your hair, scalp and backside for imbedded ticks. WHEN to be concerned: if a fever, rash, joint aches or flu-like illness follows a tick bite by days to a few weeks, get thee to your doctor immediately. Tick borne illnesses are treatable when suspected, diagnosed, and treated early. PS: make sure your animals are up to date on their flea and tick treatments too. A once over after hiking is good for your dog too.
Water Safety – It goes without saying, but I’ll say it – NEVER turn your back on a child in a pool or near a body of water, even if it’s a wading pool, pond, or bucketful. That means NOT playing on YOUR screens, or spending time on the phone – both are distracting enough as many accidents in and around water happen in a heartbeat, and typically are quiet events. ALL pools in homes should be gated/covered safely until all children and adults, as well as neighbor’s children, are water safe. Discourage your children from wrestling and dunking each other under water. Accidental aspiration of pool, pond, or ocean water into the lungs can cause “dry drowning” hours later, long after playtime in the pool has finished. NEVER leave a body of water unattended once your children are out. Lock the pool gate, empty the buckets and kiddy pool. If out in the open water boating, paddleboarding, or tubing, make sure your children have and wear approved safety vests at all times – whether they are good swimmers or not.
Sun Safety – Let’s remember that 2 severe sunburns in childhood double a person’s risk of skin cancer/melanoma and those occurring in young to later adulthood multiply the risk even more. We know we should wear sunscreen daily, BUT not all sunscreens are alike, their individual active and inactive ingredients all have the potential to cause rashes or reactions. So as with any skin care product, especially if you are using it for the first time, testing a small amount on a patch of skin before anticipated use is a good thing. If your pre-verbal child screams or is irritable, even without a red reaction, wash it off and don’t use it on your child. Avoid lotions with bergamot, or citrus oils in them…it’s not unusual to see blistering reactions on the skin - this is called phyto-photo-dermatitis and can also happen if your child is on certain antibiotics or other medications and goes out in the sun. So, if your child is on medications, make sure you ask your pharmacist or pediatrician if playing in the sun is recommended. Apply sunscreen several minutes before going outside, and if you or your loved ones are wet, sweaty, sandy, or toweling off, reapply at least every 2 hours. If skin starts reddening, get out of the sun immediately, and stay out to avoid more damage.
Best practice – UPF Swimsuits, rash guards, a cool pair of UVA/B blocking shades and a wide brimmed hat. And remember, some of the worst sunburns out there happen on foggy days.
Car Safety There’s a large bump in motor vehicle accidents and teen fatalities in the summer when kids hit the road, travel in packs, and have more opportunities to be distracted than ever. That’s why driving with safety in mind is so key. That means putting your kids in approved car seats in the back seat, and once they outgrow their car seat, using boosters to that their belts fall across their upper legs and mid clavicle. I shuddered the other day when I saw a dad in a vintage Corvette convertible with his son riding shotgun – the kid was 3-4 years of age, wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and kneeling in his seat and waving to passersby. This is a recipe for disaster – hitting one bump, that kid would be ejected from the car and a fatality. Parents, teach by example – wear your seatbelts religiously, and don’t even start the car until everyone is buckled in safely.
Carry water with you in the summer – cars heat up to well over 120 degrees when parked, so just hopping in the car is akin to taking a sauna – you can rapidly dehydrate, as can your children under these circumstances – so turn on the AC, cool off the car for a minute or 2, hydrate, hop in and enjoy the rest of your summer. NEVER, NEVER leave a person or a pet in a parked car in the summer, even just dashing into the dry cleaners. Within 2-3 minutes, heatstroke can take the life of a vulnerable child or pet. Find a drive through if you need to run errands with a sleeping child – whether market, for a quick meal or dropping off cleaning, it’s a life saving measure.