HOUSTON (June 20, 2014)

Saturday, June 21 marks the first day of summer – a season characterized by fun in the sun. Swimming, biking and Fourth of July celebrations are all activities that kids look forward to; however, these activities also can present very real dangers to the kids who enjoy them. Sarah Rizvi, M.D., FAAP, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, shares tips to help make your family’s summer a fun and safe one.

Water Safety Harris County has more drowning deaths for individuals under the age of 18 than any other county in Texas. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, drowning is the nation’s leading cause of death for children ages one to four, and the second for kids ages five to 14. Remember these tips to keep your children safe while they splash:

  • Designate an adult whose sole responsibility is to watch the children in or around the water. This person should not be distracted by other activities such as talking on the phone, reading or supervising other children.
  • Stay within arm's length of toddlers and children if you are going to be around any water – even a small mop bucket of water or a bathtub can pose a drowning risk to small children. Vigilance is key. Most tragedies occur in the few minutes the child is unsupervised. Install barriers around your pool. These should be at least 4 ft. high and have locking latches that are out of children's reach.
  • Remove any toys, balls or floats in or around the pool after use. Children may be tempted to reach for these and can fall in as a result. Never replace life jackets with water wings, inner tubes or foam noodles – these are not designed as proper water safety devices.
  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Perfoming CPR before paramedics arrive could make a difference in life or death.
  • Keep a cell phone handy and rescue equipment by the pool at all times. Remember, large bodies of water – pools, lakes, rivers, ponds – are not the only danger. Children can drown in just a few inches of water, so it cannot be emphasized enough that young children should be supervised around all water, including mop buckets, toilets and bath tubs.
  • Teach children to obey posted safety rules. Review them when you enter the pool area and do not allow horseplay on the sides of the pool area.
  • Diving safety is extremely important. Pay extra attention when diving platforms are present and note and obey where diving is prohibited. Diving headfirst into a pool that is not deep enough can have tragic and permanent consequences.

It is important for all family members, even adults, to be aware of water safety and set a good example for younger children and teens. Avoid mixing alcohol and swimming and always swim with a buddy, especially when taking part in ocean or river activities. Even experienced swimmers should follow the buddy system. A single moment could save your life.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke are caused by exercising or playing in a hot, humid environment where the body becomes dehydrated. This is especially common in humid coastal cities like Houston where water loss and dehydration can be extremely rapid. If heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke, it can be fatal. Consider these tips to keep your children cool during outside play:

  • Try to limit strenuous activities and sun exposure to early morning and evening and avoid the hottest part of the day between 10am and 4pm.
  • Teach children to drink plenty of fluids before and during any activity in hot, sunny weather. Parents should be proactive about encouraging children to drink to stay hydrated – well before they become very thirsty. Be sure that the fluids contain some small amounts of electrolytes as well. You can purchase ready-made liquid or powdered electrolytes to add to water. Make sure to keep these sugar-free to limit excess calories.
  • Teach children playing outdoors to take frequent small breaks to cool down and hydrate to avoid becoming overheated.

Bike Safety

In 2012, more than 270,000 children were seen in emergency rooms for injuries from riding bicycles. Follow these tips to protect your kids while they pedal:

  • Wear a helmet. A child who rides with a companion, including parents, wearing a helmet is more likely to wear a helmet. Helmets should only be worn for biking or other activities specified on the package. Helmets should not be worn on a playground or to climb a tree – there is a risk of strangulation from the chin-strap during these types of activities.
  • Replace the helmet if your child hits any surface hard while wearing it. Helmets lose their capacity to absorb shock after taking serious hits and must be replaced to retain their proper function.
  • Discuss the rules of the road for bike riding with your children. Young children should only ride in supervised areas and never near roadways. Older kids should ride on the right side of the road with traffic, not against it. They also should use appropriate hand signals and respect traffic laws, stopping at all stop signs and stoplights.

If riding a bike at dawn or dusk, light colored or reflective clothing should be worn so that motorists are able to see the bicycle rider.Fourth of July Firework Safety Fourth of July and fireworks go hand-in-hand, but if not handled properly, fireworks can cause serious injury. Before lighting that sparkler, study these safety tips:

  • The best way to protect your family is to not use fireworks at home. Attend public fireworks displays, and leave the lighting to the professionals.
  • Before lighting fireworks, check to see if it is legal in your neighborhood.
  • Always use fireworks outside and have a source of water nearby in case of accidents.Never hold a firework in your hand or any part of your body while lighting it.
  • Always wear eye protection while lighting a firework.
  • Never point a firework at another person, animal, or a house.

Sun Safety

Summer is a perfect time to soak up sunshine, but too much sun exposure can be harmful and can cause skin and eye damage, immune system suppression and even skin cancer. Follow these tips to protect your kids while they have fun in the sun:

Even just a few serious sunburns in childhood can increase the child’s risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Teach children how to take precautions during sun exposure to reduce their chance of injury – seek shade, cover up, get a hat, wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen.

Avoid being in the sun for prolonged times when the sun is strongest – typically mid-day from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. If kids are in the sun between these hours, be sure to apply and frequently re-apply protective sunscreen — even if they're just playing in the backyard.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that all children — regardless of their skin tone — wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Even one day in the sun can result in a painful burned cornea (the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye). Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life (clouding of the eye lens, which results in blindness).

The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses. The sunglasses should be of good quality and not simply toy sunglasses. There are now a number of good quality sunglass manufacturers for children that meet the proper UV filter requirements. Sunglasses are extremely important even during cloudy days, on the water, or in snow activities as well.

Wearing sunscreen and limiting your time in the sun not only reduces your risk of sun damage and premature aging, but teaches kids good sun sense. There are great new formulations and lots of ways to make applying sunscreen fun and not a chore.“Children learn to copy what they see in adult and parent behavior,” said Dr. Rizvi. “The absolute best way to teach your children these safety skills is to practice them yourself. Review these tips and rules with your family each time before heading out for activities to reinforce the message and encourage lifelong healthy and safe summer habits.”

Dr. Rizvi sees pediatric patients at Children’s Memorial Hermann Memorial City in the pediatric emergency department, now open 24/7, 365-days a year. For more information, call 713.222.CARE (2273).