Keys to a Healthy Summer



Summer will be here before you know it. Longer days, lighter evenings and, yes, more worries for us parents. Each year, we see increased visits from many parents who are concerned with sun safety, insect bites and seeking advice how to keep their kids safe from water-related accidents. Here are some helpful tips to keep your kids safe during the summer season and all year long.

 Avoid the Burn

Skin protection is imperative for children during the summertime when there is increased exposure to dangerous UV rays. Most sun damage occurs in early childhood, which can lead to skin cancer later in life. There are short and long-term effects of sun exposure for children that parents should be aware of. The more severe, long-term effects of exposure to the sun can include DNA damage, which can in turn lead to cancer or pre-cancerous conditions. A few things to keep in mind when you head out on a summer day:

Avoid UV rays. The sun is at its highest and UV rays are their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Use effective sunscreen. Look for a sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 15 or 30. An SPF of higher than 50 does not provide that much extra sun coverage. Also look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a main ingredient. Apply sunscreen liberally 15-30 minutes before going outside to allow for maximum absorption. Cover all extremities including the face, nose, back, chest, ears, legs and exposed scalp.

Keep babies out of the sun. Babies under six months of age should be kept away from sunlight altogether. If you need to be out, place your baby in a stroller with a canopy that covers any possible entry point for the sun.

Wear light clothing. Keep children covered in light cotton clothes with a tight weave that do not allow for the sun to come into contact with the skin.

Re-apply sunscreen near water. If swimming, reapply sunscreen every time your child exits the water to ensure constant protection. Also remember that UV rays can bounce off the water, so make sure your children's entire bodies are protected.

Sunburn treatment. If your child is exposed to a little too much sun, treat sunburn with a cold compress placed on areas that are warm or painful. Avoid petroleum-based products – which tend to insulate heat – in favor of those with aloe vera.

Itchy Bites

One of the not-so-enjoyable aspects of summer is insect bites and stings. Mosquitos, bees, ticks? Those itchy, scratchy bites are a nuisance. Here are a few suggestions to help stay safe from the annoying effects of insect bites:

Spray and repeat. Parents or caregivers should spray their children’s' exposed skin and clothing. Reapply whenever the spray gets washed off or your child starts getting bitten again. Some safe insect repellant options for children include: DEET (no higher than 30 percent, but not for infants younger than 2 months old), Picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil.

Look for allergies. Some kids react to insect bites more than others. If your child gets bitten and seems to have an allergic reaction to the bite, seek medical attention to see if you should give your child an oral antihistamine or other medication. To help soothe the symptoms of insect bites or stings, apply hydrocortisone cream twice daily, take oral Benadryl for itching and use cool compresses.

Check for ticks. Ticks thrive in warm, moist, woodsy areas, so ideally kids should wear long clothing to cover their skin. But honestly, in the heat of summer, that's hard to do. Try to check your children and encourage them to shower within two hours of coming indoors. Ticks can also stick to clothing, so consider placing clothes in the dryer on high heat for at least an hour to kill any ticks. Kids ages 6 and older can check themselves, with adult guidance, but they must check their entire body, not just forearms and legs – under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs and around the waist. If a child develops any rash or fever after a tick bite, visit your pediatrician.

 Supervise Your Swimmers

Swimming and summer go hand in hand. When the summer heat starts to rise, nothing feels better than jumping into a cool pool. This is one of parents’ biggest concerns during the summer months. The bottom line is to keep your eyes on all children, regardless of age, while in the pool. Supervision, along with the following suggestions, will ensure a safe swimming experience:

Supervision is key! Never leave children alone in or near water, even for a moment; close supervision by a responsible adult is the best way to prevent drowning in children.

Experience matters. Less experienced swimmers and children under age 5 in or around water should have an adult nearby, preferably one who knows how to swim and perform CPR.

Partner up. Never swim alone. Even good swimmers need buddies.

Designate a water watcher. If a lifeguard is not present, consider designating someone to be a “water watcher.” Because drowning can be quick and quiet, the water watcher should pay constant attention, be undistracted and not be involved in any other activity – such as reading, playing cards or using the phone – while supervising children.

Summer will be quickly upon us. The key to keeping your family safe during the heat is to use good common sense and follow the tips above. Of course, if you have any concerns or questions, we encourage you to visit your physician. Enjoy!

Dr. Pelen Wu is a pediatrician with John Muir Summit Pediatric Medical Group in Orinda. An East Bay native, she enjoys playing tennis and chasing her two boys, ages 12 and 14, around the basketball court. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a pediatrician

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