Summer Safety Simple precautions for a fun season

May 26, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

Summertime, when it's easy to have fun and easy to get hurt, is nearly here. Children -- rambunctious, unmindful of heat and sun, and eager to attempt warm weather physical challenges -- are especially vulnerable to a variety of seasonal injuries. Here is a checklist of precautions to make this a fun and healthy summer.

* Wear a bicycle helmet. It's only "May and we have one kid in Shock Trauma from a bike injury," says Dr. Cheryl Parks, a pediatrician at Greenspring Pediatrics. Head trauma is the leading cause of death in bicycling accidents. With the use of helmets, such injuries "could be preventable," Dr. Parks says.

Also, young children should not ride their bikes where there is motor vehicle traffic. Older children should be familiar with the rules of the road.

* Use appropriate protective gear in other sports. When the summer is in full swing, "We have a slew of eye injuries every week," says Dr. Stuart R. Dankner, a pediatric and adolescent ophthalmologist in Baltimore and president of the Maryland Society to Prevent Blindness. Sports goggles and helmets with face shields made of polycarbonate plastic protect against "very BTC dangerous, blunt injuries" that can cause permanent visual loss, Dr. Dankner says.

Skateboarding also calls for a helmet and protective knee and elbow wear, pediatricians say.

* Guard against heat exhaustion. "If it's really hot, pay attention to the heat, humidity and the air quality index," Dr. Parks says. "If all those things are high," it's not a day for children to participate in aerobic sports such as basketball or jogging. During heat waves, "kids should not be spending a lot of time outside. Have them come in and take a break and drink water and then go out again," Dr. Parks advises.

In addition, dress children in light-weight clothing of breathable fabrics like cotton.

* Practice water safety. "Most drowning deaths occur in rivers and streams, backyard pools and other bodies of water around the home. No child can ever be in or around the water unsupervised," says Dr. Modena Wilson, director of primary care of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and a Sun columnist.

If your child is ready to learn to swim, shop around for a strong aquatic program, preferably one certified by the American Red Cross.

When in the water with infants or toddlers, always remain level with the children's faces to make sure their eyes and noses are above water and teach them to orient themselves to the beach or pool's edge.

Remember that aids such as inflatable tubes, air mattresses and water wings are not a substitute for swimming ability. Allow children to dive only in known waters that are sufficiently deep.

Small plastic pools for infants and toddlers should be emptied and turned over when not in use. On boating excursions, parents as well as children should wear a personal flotation device (PFD).

* Protect against the sun's harmful ultra-violet rays. "Most skin damage occurs between the ages of 5 and 15 and can have a major influence on the development of skin cancer later in life," according to Dr. Perry Robins, president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Care givers can begin applying sunscreen to infants when they are 6 months old, Dr. Robins writes. He recommends using a non-alcohol-based sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher and to use water-resistant sunscreen for swimmers. Children should be covered as much as possible with protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats. It is best for children to play outdoors before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m.

Ultra-violet light is also "potentially dangerous to the eyes," say ophthalmologist Dr. Dankner. Look for sunglasses with maximum 100 percent protection, he says. Infants or toddlers who may not tolerate sunglasses should wear sun hats with visors, Dr. Dankner says.

* Be aware of poisonous plants. Teach children not to consume mushrooms or wild berries. Red leaves and berries may be a natural warning of toxicity but many plants with green foliage are also poisonous if ingested.

Symptoms of poisoning range from digestive tract irritation, vomiting and diarrhea to signs of cardiac and central nervous system toxicity, says Wendy Klein-Schwartz, director of the Maryland Poison Center.

Keep syrup of ipecac on hand to induce vomiting, but call a doctor or the Maryland Poison Center before administering first aid.

Show children what poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac look like and guard against exposure with protective clothing.

* Avoid fire hazards. Fireworks should be enjoyed at public shows only, Dr. Wilson says. Children are "unlikely to die from fireworks injuries but they are likely to lose eyes, hands and other parts of their bodies," she says. Sparklers, as well, "burn at incredibly high temperatures" and are dangerous, Dr. Wilson says. Children should be taught to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire.

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