Summer's More Fun When You Play It Safe!
Summertime can be great fun for kids. Yet each summer, physicians end up treating many children for severe sunburns, reactions to insect bites and stings, and injuries incurred during outdoor activities, including burns caused by barbecues, campfires and fireworks.
Dr. Dennis Unson, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Washington Hospital, notes that parents can avoid letting these hazards ruin their children’s summer vacation, and he offers some useful guidelines:
"Sunburns can be very painful and can lead to skin cancer later on," Dr. Unson says. "I recommend using sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 20 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply it at least every two hours. Sunscreen is important even on cloudy days. I see a lot more sunburns on overcast days because people aren’t as aware of their exposure and don’t feel themselves getting burned."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new requirements for over the counter sunscreen products. See the information box below for more details.
"Sunscreens with zinc oxide protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and they are very benign and non-toxic," Dr. Unson observes. "Before using a new brand of sunscreen, test it on a small area of the child’s back for a couple of days and watch for reactions such as redness or a rash.
"Don’t use sunscreen on infants under 6 months old unless you absolutely have to," he adds. "Instead, dress the baby in lightweight clothing with long sleeves and pant legs. Even when older children are wearing sunscreen, it’s best to have them cover up and wear hats with a wide brim."
That annoying insect bite or bee sting could cause an allergic reaction for some children. And just because West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease aren’t the top headlines in the news anymore doesn’t mean they’re not still of concern.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using insect repellants that contain between 10 to 30 percent DEET," Dr. Unson states. "The difference in the percentage of DEET affects duration more than effectiveness. Repellant with 10 percent DEET lasts about two hours, while one with 24 percent DEET is effective for about five hours. You should not use insect repellant on infants under 2 months old. It’s better to use a lotion product instead of a spray, and you must avoid contact with the eyes. Combination products with sunscreen and repellent aren’t recommended because sunscreen generally should be applied more often than repellant."
Other options for repelling insects include "natural" products without DEET such as Picaridin and eucalyptus oil. "The EPA and CDC have both approved Picaridin," says Dr. Unson. "It may or may not be as effective as DEET. Outdoor candles with citronella also can be useful. If you use a ‘bug zapper’ outdoors, be sure it’s up out of children’s reach."
Safe Outdoor Play
Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. among children.
"Whether you’re at a pool, lake, river or ocean, you should never allow children to swim alone, and do not rely on flotation devices to protect a child from drowning," Dr. Unson cautions. "Even in ‘kiddie pools’ with one or two feet of water, children need constant supervision. If you have a backyard pool, a childproof fence with a lock is essential. When you’re boating, rafting or water skiing, always insist that children – and adults – wear life preservers. Adults need to set the example."
Head injuries are not uncommon in bicycling, skating or skateboarding, and they can be deadly.
"Wearing a helmet is the single most important safety factor in biking and skating," Dr. Unson notes. "Kids who are skating or skateboarding also should wear protective knee pads and wrist braces. Make sure children follow the rules of the road, riding on the right side of the street and making a complete stop at stop signs and stoplights."
Summer campfires, barbecues and fireworks are major sources of burn injuries, as well as causes of disastrous forest fires. To make your summer fire-safe, Dr. Unson recommends keeping small children away from all sources of fire, including matches, lighters, camp stoves and hot barbecue grills.
As for fireworks, he warns: "Fireworks are not only illegal in most communities, but also very dangerous. No one should have personal fireworks. Leave it to the experts. Be sure your children attend only professional fireworks displays."
New FDA Regulations on Sunscreen
The FDA has announced significant changes to sunscreen products that will help consumers decide how to buy and use sunscreen, and allow them to more effectively protect themselves and their families from sun-induced damage. For more information about these changes, visit the FDA’s website: www.fda.gov