June 21, 2018

Hidden harms of summer: how to keep kids safe and hydrated

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Keeping children safe as temperatures rise should be top-of-mind this summer, says one UAB pediatrician.

summer safety kidsWith school out and summer underway, it is more important than ever for parents to be mindful of how to keep their infants and children safe this season. Whether it is knowing signs and symptoms that their child is overheating, staying up-to-date on water safety, or knowing how to properly hydrate their children, Candice Dye, M.D., a pediatrician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, shares information and ways that parents can stay alert and aware of how summer temperatures and activities can impact their child’s health.

Overheating and dehydration

During summer months, children tend to be outside much longer, be it at summer camp or playing in the backyard. Exposure to high temperatures, thick humidity and direct sunlight coupled with little rest can take its toll on a child’s body.

“It’s important to remember that children are prone to overheating and dehydrating very quickly, but often they don’t convey their thirst or exhaustion appropriately,” Dye said. “We can’t expect them to tell us when they are hot or thirsty — we as adults have to give them those prompts and stay mindful.”

Dye notes that babies should be of top concern during the summer heat because they have not matured enough to produce sweat like older children or adults, nor do they have the same measures to self-regulate body temperature.

Some signs that your child might be dehydrated include increased sweating, signs of thirst, which include drying of the mouth and lips, and fatigue.

“I recommend that parents stay on top of their child’s hydration by sending extra water bottles with them to camp or day care, or if their child is playing outside, making them drink water every half hour or so,” Dye said. “Fruit and vegetable snacks like oranges, strawberries, cucumber and watermelon can also help keep children hydrated in a fun yet healthy way, so I try incorporating those with my family, too.”

Swim safety

There is no better feeling than jumping in a cold pool on a hot day, but parents need to be hyper-aware of their child’s surroundings near water. In fact, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1 to 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s easy to think that others are also paying attention to your child when swimming; but most often there isn’t a lifeguard on duty, especially when you are at the beach or lake,” Dye noted. “Before any swimming with kids occurs, an adult needs to be designated the lifeguard on duty and keep a close watch on all swimmers.”

Dye encourages parents to stick close by as their children swim and be the responsible adult in case there needs to be a quick rescue. Children should always be required to wear life jackets while on a boat or any moving object, as situations can easily become unpredictable and dangerous.  

For families with pools in their backyards, Dye stresses that the safest measure shown to prevent drowning is having a locked gate around pools. Children can wander out of a home or yard and end up on the bottom of the pool before anyone knows they are missing, a tragedy that can be better prevented with the inclusion of gates.

Dye also reminds all swimmers to be careful and mindful of rip tides when swimming in the ocean. Children should know how to swim out of the rip tide. Swimming perpendicular to the current — and not against it — should get the swimmer safely out of the rip tide.

For any child who will be near any open bodies of water, it is important to teach them proper swim techniques; this is critical even for splash pads, water parks, and tiny blow up pools in the backyard, as it does not take much water for a child to drown. The UAB Rec Center offers swim lessons for children of all ages, with programs for infants and toddlers that teach them how to enjoy the water and show parents water safety methods firsthand.

Sun protection

When it comes to sunscreen, Dye stresses that you can never apply too much.

“Each time your child gets out of the water or comes in the house after playing outside, I recommend you reapply,” Dye said. “A good rule of thumb is applying more than you think is needed, and it should be a bit of work to rub it in, reapplying at least every two hours.”

A broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least an SPF 30 is best, always getting a brand that is water-resistant. Dye recommends sending extra sunscreen to camp or day care with your child so that supervisors can reapply as well.

While sunscreen is safe to use on babies 4 months and older, it is recommended that babies under 6 months of age use other forms of sun protection, like appropriate clothing and shade, which is still good advice for older children, too.

Dye suggests looking into long-sleeved rash guards for infants and children to wear when in direct sunlight, particularly at the beach, where the sun is very strong. She also recommends to protect them even further with a hat and sunglasses, but notes that the added accessories and clothing do not substitute for sunscreen.

Hidden harms

Summer is a time when great family and community memories are made, but hidden harms that could put children at risk need to remain top of mind for parents and adults.

“It’s easy to forget that, as hot as we feel when we are outside in scorching temperatures, objects like toys in the yard, the playground and patio furniture are even hotter,” Dye said. “Even items like water hoses that have been sitting in the sun are an extreme risk, as that first stream of water will be scorching hot and could endanger a child if they are in its path.”

Dye reminds parents to never give children water that has been sitting in the car, as it likely is scalding too.

One of the most prominent fears that parents have is accidently leaving their children in the car. As a mother herself, Dye gives parents a tip that can make the difference in saving a life.

“As a parent, I make a conscious point to put my cellphone and purse in the backseat with my child so I have an additional reminder when I’ve reached my destination,” Dye said. “One can easily forget things, especially if it’s not a part of a normal routine, but forgetting a child in a hot car could be deadly. By placing your cell phone, purse, or work bag in the backseat, that additional reminder can make the difference.”

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