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Sunburns, heat illness and food poisoning may damper summertime activities

Summer means sun, pools and play for many kids, but parents should be aware of several hazards that could make the summer months a lot less fun.

The summer heat can cause a lot of damage if kids are allowed to play outside in the direct sun for too long. Dr. Barakah Day, a pediatrician at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic Circle C, says it’s important to stay safe if you’re going to be out in the sun.

Kids playing in the sand

Some of the most common summer safety hazards are:

Sunburns

Dr. Day recommends protecting children’s skin from the sun by wearing long sleeves and pants and applying sunscreen regularly.

“It’s always important to wear sunscreen if you are going to be out in the sun for any length of time, especially between 10am and 2pm,” Dr. Day said. “You need to reapply it, because it does wear off after two or three hours or if you are in the pool. Children, especially babies, should not be in the sun for any length of time.”

If you notice your child starting to look pink — it’s time to come out of the sun. Some of the worst sunburns children develop are on overcast days.  So it’s important to protect the skin even when the sun is not shining.

“Sunburns are very painful. [Children] can have fever. The pain and the fever can be controlled with the proper dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen,” she said. “Cool moisturizers or compresses will help the pain. But ultimately you just have to wait until the body heals itself.”

Although severe sunburns are rare, if a child burns a significant amount of their body it can be severe.

She recommends bringing them to the doctor if they have severe pain that medicine and cool compresses are not controlling. A child who is not drinking fluids and is vomiting after a sunburn should also see their doctor or go to the nearest urgent care.

Heat Illness

Kids like to play outdoors during the summer, and as the start of school approaches in late summer, some school teams practice when it’s still very hot outside.  When kids don’t hydrate enough they can become dehydrated which can lead to heat illness.

“It’s important to drink water if you are exercising — probably 16 ounces every hour or so. Your child should drink enough so that they’re urinating every two to three hours and it’s clear.”

child drinking from water fountain

Prevention is important

Parents should try to make sure children stay hydrated and do not go out in the direct sun when it is above 100 degrees. Even despite precautions, some children may still become dehydrated. In that case, bring them out of the heat.

“As soon as you notice your child is a little dizzy or nauseated, bring them into a cool place and drink lots of fluid. Preferably — don’t let them go back out that same day,” she said.

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat illness.

Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and parents should seek help for their children right away. Call “911”.

Family at picnic

Food poisoning

Getting together with friends and family for a picnic is a much-loved summer activity.  Make sure the sun doesn’t cause contamination of food items at your gathering.  Foods left out in the heat can grow bacteria that causes food poisoning.

Food poisoning usually doesn’t appear for six to eight hours after the contaminated food has been eaten. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes vomiting can be so severe that patients cannot keep anything down. After several hours, small children can become very dehydrated.

Prevention is key here too, but if children end up with food poisoning, pediatricians recommend that parents avoid giving children anything by mouth for the first two hours after symptoms appear.

“Your instincts may be to give them fluids, but usually, for the first couple of hours the poisoned food is trying to get out. After a couple of hours, I suggest giving ice chips, popsicle chips or preferably Pedialyte or some other electrolyte solution in sips every 20 or 30 minutes.”

If your child can keep that down after an hour or two, parents can gradually increase the fluids. After 12-hours, parents may be able to start giving their child crackers, yogurt or other high fat foods to see if they can keep that down.

“Food poisoning usually goes away fairly rapidly. Vomiting is usually the most severe symptom,” Dr. Day said.
If the vomiting continues after the first two hours, and they still can’t keep everything down — seek professional medical care.

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