Cool Aid

A Summer First-Aid Primer

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By Kate Wicker


Who says school’s out for the summer? This summer first-aid primer offers a crash course on preventing and treating common summertime afflictions.


The creepy crawlies

From fire ants to mosquitoes, there are an awful lot of biting critters out there, waiting to make your child their next meal.

“Do use bug repellant, but use it sparingly,” advises Vivian Lennon, MD, medical director of primary care for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, who admits that despite her best efforts, her three-year-old loves to play with fire ants. The best insect repellant contains DEET, but Lennon recommends a concentration not stronger than 10 percent for children and advises parents to follow the instructions on how often to apply.

 

If the weather permits, long sleeves and long pants—even tucked into socks—are a good precaution against bug bites as well as ticks when hiking. Lennon also recommends spraying bug repellant on clothing as opposed to skin.

 

Even with bug spray, though, chances are, your kids are going to have a few bug-induced welts to contend with. Luckily most bug bites, while annoying, aren’t serious.

 

Uncomfortable itching and swelling can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl, but use oral rather than topical medication. “Oral Benadryl is a systemic medication, meaning it gets into your child’s system and helps with the swelling and itching in most cases. Topical Benadryl is virtually a waste of money,” says James Wilde, MD, a pediatric emergency-room physician at the Medical College of Georgia Health System. Applying ice can also reduce symptoms.

 

Swimmer’s ear

 

Your child has been making a splash in the pool all summer long. Suddenly, he screams in pain when you gently tug or even touch his ear. Diagnosis? He’s probably got a bad case of swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear is caused when water washes away earwax and the normal bacteria that inhabit ears, changing the pH levels. “This allows for growth of another type of bacteria that causes most cases of swimmer’s ear,” Dr. Wilde says.

 

When it comes to this painful ailment, prevention is key. There are drops that help prevent swimmer’s ear. Earplugs can also help keep the water out. Oh, and encourage kids to do that silly-looking dance where they hop on one foot and shake their heads to one side to dislodge trapped water from their ears.

 

Over-the-counter eardrops treat swimmer’s ear by restoring the proper pH levels and kill the bacteria, but if the pain persists for more than 24 hours, see a doctor.

 

Poison ivy, sumac, and oak, oh my!

Your child loves romping through the woods, so it’s no surprise when she comes home one day with red, itchy bumps on her skin. Rashes from poison ivy, oak, or sumac are all caused by a substance in the sap called urushiol.

 

Although poisonous plant rashes can’t be spread from person to person, it’s possible to get the rash from handling clothing, balls, pets, and other items that have come into contact with urushiol.

 

If you suspect your child has handled a poisonous plant, wash the area with soap and water to remove the urushiol. This keeps the poison ivy, sumac, or oak from spreading. But don’t just plunge your child into the bathtub. Taking a bath can spread the rash to other areas of the body since the urushiol will float on top of the water. Hydrocortisone creams and an antihistamine can help relieve the itching, but if the rash worsens and continues to spread, see your pediatrician.

 

Heat-related illness

 

The summertime heat and high levels of humidity put children at risk for heat-related illness. There are two main types of heat-related illness—heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Symptoms for heat exhaustion include dizziness, weakness, cramps, nausea, and headache. If you recognize any of these symptoms in a child, first try to cool him off. To chill him out fast, place ice packs on his neck, groin area, and underarms. Also give him fluids (water is best) to drink.

 

Heatstroke is a more serious condition, resulting from excessive exposure to heat. It can result in unconsciousness or paralysis and demands immediate medical attention. Signs of heatstroke include confusion, dizziness, and the inability to sweat. In severe cases, CPR may be necessary.

 

To prevent heat-related illness, keep children from playing outside for long hours during the hottest times of the day, from noon until about 6:00 pm. Kids should wear cool, lightweight clothing and should load up on water—even if they insist they’re not thirsty.

 

Resources:

Kate Wicker

Kate Wicker is the author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body and writes frequently about health-related issues. Read more at KateWicker.com.