From heat exposure to ticks, 10 summer injuries parents should watch out for
Summertime for kids means more time playing at parks and in pools, riding bikes through the neighborhood and eating hot dogs at barbecues.
While mostly fun, these rites of passage can lead to the kinds of illness or injuries emergency room doctors say they see more of when the temperatures start to climb and Fourth of July picnics are in full swing.
Some mishaps are inevitable, doctors say, but there are precautions parents can take to try to avoid visits to the ER or doctors’ offices. Here are 10 injuries doctors say they see in the summer, and what parents should know.
1. Heat exposure
If a child has been outside in high temperatures and appears fatigued, complains of body aches or has vomited, he or she could have heat exposure and could require medical attention, said Dr. Michael Anderson, an emergency medicine physician at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. He said a lot of his young patients have been exposed to the heat and are dehydrated.
To avoid this, it’s important to make sure children are drinking plenty of fluids, along with minimizing their time in the heat, Anderson said. Parents need to pay attention to “how hot it is, how hot (the children) are, and to be hydrating,” he said.
This can turn tragic and fatal if a child is left in the car in hot temperatures, Anderson warned. “Be mindful of small children in cars,” he said.
2. Food poisoning and stomach viruses
When parties move outside in the summer, so does the food, and sometimes food safety isn’t top of mind, said Dr. Vipul Singla, a pediatrician at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Sometimes perishable food is left out too long, meat is not cooked long enough on grills and fruit is not fully cleaned, he said. That can lead to food poisoning like salmonella, which causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after eating the food infected with the bacteria.
Singla recommends practicing good food safety, as well as good hygiene like hand-washing at summer picnics. Stomach viruses also tend to spread in summer, he said, because people share food or water bottles and are generally in closer contact with one another.
3. Playground and bike injuries
It’s hard to prevent a child from every injury, said Singla, but some playgrounds are safer than others. Take a look at the landing surfaces, he said. Wood chips and other softer materials can cushion a fall from the monkey bars – a common culprit for fractures, he said.
Singla also said parents should insist their child wear a helmet when riding a bike or scooter to protect the head.
Anderson warned parents of trampolines. He said he sees a lot of head and neck injuries in children who were jumping and flipping on a trampoline.
In general, if a child falls and appears injured, it’s hard to distinguish a break from a sprain, bruise or muscle pull just by looking, Anderson said. But a good rule of thumb is to seek medical attention if a child can’t bear weight on the bone, has a lot of pain or if the pain will not go away.
4. Water injuries and sunburn
It’s important for parents to make sure children learn to be good swimmers, Singla said. And children who can’t swim should be constantly monitored in the water and should wear flotation aides, he said. Even strong swimmers need supervision, he added, and parents should seek out pools and beaches with lifeguards on duty.
When enjoying a day at the pool, everyone needs sunscreen to protect from burns, which depending on severity could require medical attention, Singla said. Most sunscreens don’t hold up well in water, he said, so reapply often.
5. Ticks and other bugs
When children are in a wooded area, they should wear protective clothing like long sleeves to avoid ticks, Anderson said. Bug spray helps, too, but with ticks, clothing is the best defense, he said.
Doctors worry about ticks because they can cause illness, like Lyme disease. Singla said parents should check kids’ heads and bodies to look for ticks. A tick can be removed with a tweezers, and some doctors’ offices can test the bug.
Mosquitoes are also harmful and can cause West Nile virus. Bug sprays and protective clothing also protect from this insect’s itchy bites, doctors said.
While parents may think concussions are limited to football players and other athletes, a blow to the head can happen to a young child on a playground.
Anderson said that if a child hits his or her head and then complains of headache, nausea, dizziness or blurred vision, her or she could have a concussion. Someone can have a concussion even without losing consciousness, he said. Other signs include loss of concentration, memory problems, confusion and agitation, Anderson said.
Rhonda Williams of Chicago said she didn’t realize her child had had a concussion until a few days after her then 9-year-old son Ronnie was pushed on the playground last year. His face hit another child’s head, and then he fell and hit the back of his head on the ground, Williams said.
Although Ronnie had a black eye and later felt nauseous, Williams didn’t think he had a concussion. A few days later, Ronnie’s music teacher noticed he was having trouble reading and wasn’t himself, and suggested he might have a concussion, Williams said. After treatment, including cognitive and physical rest, and avoiding certain sports, Ronnie, now 10, is doing well, she said.
She warns parents to be on the lookout for concussion signs, and most of all, “you’ve got to pay attention to your children. That’s my big lesson.”
7. Skin rashes
Children tend to spread and catch skin rashes easily in the summer, when they’re in close contact and wearing less clothing, Singla said. Extremely contagious viral rashes, like molluscum or ringworm, are easily spread at playgrounds and pools, he said.
These types of ailments are best treated in a doctor’s office and typically do not cause pain, Singla said. Good hygiene is the best defense, he said, but also identifying “patient zero” to avoid further spread.
“Parents underestimate how much … a kid tells them things. Parents should look over their kids,” he said.
8. Summer colds and other viruses
Many think winter is when runny noses and coughs are rampant, but there are plenty of colds in the summer, Singla said.
He stresses hand-washing after playground play, where kids tend to pick up viruses. Showering before and after the pool is also good practice to avoid catching things, he said.
Environmental allergies can affect children in warmer months. While it’s hard to avoid high pollen counts in the air, Singla said, parents can take certain precautions.
Lawn treatment sprays or certain plants can be particularly harmful to children. “If (children) roll around in the grass and play in the bushes, they could (have an allergic reaction) or get rashes on the body,” Singla said. “It’s about knowing your environment and being as safe as you can.”
10. Cuts and scrapes
When a fall causes a wound, there are some things parents should keep in mind when treating it, Singla said. If bleeding won’t stop or if the wound is deep and won’t close, the child needs to see a doctor, he said.
If not, parents should make sure the cut is cleaned and treated at home, he said.