July 5, 2017
by Brendan Sullivan, PT, MSPT, OCS
As we continue to celebrate the season with fun and relaxing summer trips, the sun and hot temperatures can be dangerous. By following these steps, you can help to minimize the risks to you and your loved ones this summer season in and around Chester County, PA or wherever you may travel.
If you have not recently been in a hot weather environment, you must allow for slow acclimatization to the heat. Intense activities of at least 15 minutes should be reduced in high heat and high humidity conditions. Ensure adequate hydration with either water or sports drinks both BEFORE and DURING (5 oz for a child under 90 pounds and 9 oz for an adolescent weighing 130 pounds every 20 minutes); even if the child does not feel thirsty. Clothing should be light-colored, lightweight, and only one layer to facilitate the evaporation of sweat.
Two serious heat-related injuries include heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, nausea and/or vomiting and fainting. Treating heat exhaustion centers around cooling the person: move them to a cool/shady area, push cool non-alcoholic beverages, remove excess clothing, and, if available, apply ice to the neck, armpit and groin areas to help decrease core body temperature.
If left untreated, heat exhaustion can result in heat stroke, a true medical emergency that can prove fatal if not treated promptly and properly. Key differences between heat stroke and heat exhaustion are that heat stroke signs include: the absence of sweating with hot red or flushed dry skin, difficulty breathing and strange behavior: agitation, confusion, hallucinations and/or disorientation. Follow the steps above to cool the person and call 911 immediately.
The sun is important as it is our primary source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium which is essential for strong and healthy bones. Too much sun exposure; however, can cause skin and eye damage, suppress our immune system and result in skin cancer.
Sunlight comes in three ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA rays pass through the ozone layer so a majority of our exposure is to UVA rays. Many UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer but we are still exposed to some UVB rays. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer. The most dangerous rays are UVC rays but these rays are blocked, fortunately, by the ozone layer.
It is estimated that most kids are exposed to 50% - 80% of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18. Therefore, it is important to start educating and protecting kids when they are young, especially for those considered high-risk (have moles on their skin, have fair skin and hair, or have a family history of skin cancer.
- For babies under 6 months, it is recommended to avoid sun exposure and to dress infants in lightweight long pants, lightweight long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats to protect the face and neck. Sunscreen for babies under 6 months is not recommended.
- For young children, a broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended.
- For older children/adults, the best protection against the sun is to cover up: wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and cotton clothing with a tight weave (make sure you can’t see your hand through it). Try to stay in the shade as much as possible and limit sun exposure during the most intense times of the day (10 am – 4 pm). Broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is recommended. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Be careful around water and sand as they reflect UV rays and may result in quicker sunburns.
- Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes prior to going outside to form a good layer of protection. Use generous amounts to ensure adequate coverage. Don’t forget about the lips, ears and behind the neck.
- Remember that people can still get sunburns on cool, cloudy days. Clouds offer no protection against UV rays.
- Wear sunglasses to avoid sun damage to the cornea.
- Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any medications you or your child is taking may increase sun sensitivity (i.e. antibiotics and acne medications).
Fences (at least 4 foot high) should be installed around all sides of a pool to prevent a young child from going through, over, or under the fence. Pool gates should open OUT from a pool and need to be able to self-close and self-latch. Latches should be positioned outside the reach of a young child. Consider window and door alarms if the pool is directly accessible from them. Children should ALWAYS be supervised in or around a pool. Keep rescue equipment (use fiberglass equipment -- it does not conduct electricity), a life preserver and a phone accessible in the need of an emergency. Inflatable swimming aids -- in lieu of appropriate supervision -- are not recommended as they are not a substitute for approved life vests and may give a child a false sense of security.
Avoid scented soaps, perfumes, and hair spray. Avoid areas where insects flourish, such as areas of stagnant water, uncovered foods and blooming flowers. Avoid bright clothing and flowery clothes. In the event of a bee sting, remove the visible stinger by gently scraping horizontally with a card or fingernail. Avoid combination sunscreen and insect repellent as sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours but insect repellent should not be reapplied. Insect repellents with DEET are most effective against ticks and mosquitoes. For children over 2 months of age, insect repellent with 30% DEET is recommended (products with only 10% DEET protects for only about 30 minutes). DEET should not be used on infants under 2 months of age. Be sure to wash off the insect repellent once indoors.
Protective surfaces should be used on all playgrounds: either safety-tested mats or loose-filled materials (i.e. shredded rubber, sand, wood chips) maintained to a depth of at least 9 inches. These surfaces should be extended at least 6 feet in all directions from the equipment. Be sure to inspect all equipment for defects or wear and tear. Swing seats should be made of a soft material such as rubber or plastic. Children can strangle themselves on ropes, leashes, etc. attached to equipment so these items should be avoided. Metal surfaces can get very hot in the sun; be sure to check before allowing your children on these surfaces to avoid burns. Home trampolines are not recommended. And, of course, children should always be supervised on playground equipment.
For kids just learning to ride a bike, do not push them to ride a 2-wheeled bike until they are ready. Make sure bikes are fitted properly to your child. Helmets are paramount - make sure they meet the CPSC safety standard. They need to fit properly: straps should be securely fastened and you should not be able to move the helmet in any direction when it is on. Remember, children learn best from parents so you should wear one too. Since helmets are designed to absorb significant impact, it is recommended that the helmet be replaced after an impact event, even if it does not appear to be damaged, to ensure adequate head protection in the future.
Scooter and Skateboard Safety
Avoid traffic when riding these. Safety gear is important: helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards. The same helmet fitting and replacing recommendations for riding bicycles applies to riding scooters, ripsticks and skateboards as well. Home-made ramps and jumps are dangerous.
Lawn Mower Safety
You should use a lawn mower that stops automatically if you let go of the handle. Children under the age of 16 should not use riding mowers. Do not allow children to ride as a passenger on riding mowers. Children under the age of 12 should not use walk-behind mowers. Wear sturdy shoes (no sandals) when mowing the grass. Clear the area before mowing (i.e. stones, twigs, toys) to prevent flying debris. Eye and ear protection should be used as well. Always turn off the mower and wait for the blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher or clearing the discharge chute. And never attempt to fill the gas tank when the lawn mower is on.