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June 24, 2009 > Play it Safe This Summer

Play it Safe This Summer

Tips for Keeping Kids Healthy

Sunshine, bugs and skinned knees; summertime is here. You and your kids can stay healthy this summer while enjoying the great outdoors by taking a few precautions.

"Summer is a great time to get out," said Dr. Dennis Unson, a pediatrician on the Washington Hospital Medical Staff. "But there are a few things to think about, like protecting your kids from the sun."

Unson said everyone over the age of 6 months old should wear sunscreen when in the sun for more than 20 minutes. He recommended using an SPF of at least 20. "Children less than 6 months old should not be exposed to the sun at all," he added. Infants should wear thin long-sleeve tops, long pants, and wide-brimmed hats.

Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before heading into the sun and reapplied every two hours, according to Unson. If kids are swimming, be sure to use waterproof sunscreen and reapply every half hour. He also suggested hats and sunglasses, even for the little ones.

"You can get a sunburn very quickly between 10 am and 4pm, the peak hours," he said. "The problem is you don't notice you have a burn until two to four hours after exposure, so kids won't be able to tell you they have a sunburn until afterwards."

He recommends treating sunburns with cold compresses, moisturizer creams, and pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Don't use ointments or petroleum-based lubricants because they hold the heat in. Unson said if the pain is much more than would seem appropriate for the burn, if it covers a wide area of the body, or if the skin is blistered, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

The sun's heat can also cause problems like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With heat exhaustion, your child might have a headache or feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseated. Unson said it's important to hydrate your child with fluids containing electrolytes, which can be found in drinks like Pedialyte and Gatorade. Have your child lie down and rest in a cool area and use cold compresses to help them cool down.

Heat stroke is more serious. The body loses its ability to sweat and the core body temperature rises. "It can cause you to hyperventilate and your heart rate to go up. This is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical attention," Unson said. "You can lose consciousness and have altered mental status."

Water Safety

Water is a fun way to keep kids cool, as long as you follow a few simple steps. "There are always more injuries around the pool and near-drowning incidents during the summer," Unson said. "The number one rule in pool safety is to always have adult supervision. Kids should never swim or play near the water alone."

He reminded parents to think about the wet surfaces around pools and keep kids from running in those areas. "It's easy to slip and fall," he said.

Unson urged parents to enforce the rules around life vests when boating. "Sometimes parents don't make their kids wear them because they are good swimmers," he said. "They don't realize how easy it is for something to go terribly wrong."

Bug Bites

Bugs are a fact of summer, especially if you do any hiking, mountain biking or picnicking. You can protect your kids from bug bites with insect repellent. Unson recommends getting repellent that contains DEET or Picaridin.

"For a while DEET has had a bad rap," he said. "But now we think it's safe as long as you follow the directions."

It should only be applied once a day and only to areas that are exposed. When kids come back in, have them wash it off with soap and water.

"There are products available that contain both sunscreen and insect repellent, but I don't recommend those," Unson said. "Sunscreen needs to be reapplied often while repellent does not."

He recommends parents check their children's hair, scalp and clothing for ticks after hiking or biking in the woods or grassy fields. "If you find one, pull it out immediately," Unson said.

Lyme disease can result from tick bites and West Nile can be transmitted through mosquito bites.

"Lyme disease is very rare here in Alameda County," Unson said. "But it is critical to monitor every bug bite. If the area gets bigger, redder or firmer, see your healthcare provider. There is some concern about MRSA these days. Sometimes bug bites can be a portal of entry for the bacterial infection."


Bumps and bruises are part of summer as kids spend more time on bikes, scooters and skateboards. Unson encourages parents and kids to play it safe by wearing helmets and other appropriate safety equipment like knee and elbow pads.

Most minor injuries like strains and sprains can be treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation or RICE, according to Unson. Rest the injured area, apply ice for no more than 10 to 15 minutes, wrap an ACE bandage around the affected area, and elevate it.

"It's important to take head injuries seriously," he said. "If there is any loss of consciousness, even just a few minutes, your child should get medical attention as soon as possible and may need to be evaluated in the emergency room. Even if your child hasn't lost consciousness, but they are vomiting or are sleepy, lethargic, irritable or complaining of headache, they should be evaluated right away."

Help your child get active this summer while playing it safe.

For more tips on child safety, go to the American Academy of Pediatrics' website at For information about Washington Hospital's programs and services, visit

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