Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Safety tips for hot summer days

Take one step outside and we all know we’re in for another hot summer.  Goodbye to my beloved sweatshirts for a few months, and hello to flip-flops!

When I was little, other than the occasional trip to the lake (and yes, I did wear the big, ugly May West life preserver!) my favorite cooling activity was playing in the back yard in the water sprinkler with my dog. I would stay out all afternoon if my mother would let me, but she would always call me in because “you’ve had enough sun for today.”  How can that be?  I was a sun-worshipper then, and to this day, there is nothing better than spending the day out on the water in the sun (with protection, of course).  Everything in moderation, right?

But, as with everything, there is a downside -- like overheating, particularly with children.  Infants and children are less able to regulate body heat, and therefore more susceptible to heat exposure.  They have a much lower sweating capacity than adults, and cannot dissipate heat by evaporative sweat and cooling.  To make sure you have fun in the sun during the summer, follow the simple safety tips:

Babies under 6 months:
Prevent sunburns!  Avoid sun exposure, and dress the infant in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats to shade the neck.  If clothing and shade are not available, use a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor) to small areas such as the face, and back of hands.  Prevention is the best protection!

Children over 6 months:
The best line of defense is covering up.  Wear a hat with a three-inch brim or bill, sunglasses that provide 97-100% protection against UVA and UVB rays, and cotton clothing with tight weave.
Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and stay in the shade when possible.
Apply sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Use at least 15 SPF for UVA and UVB rays.
Be sure to apply enough sunscreen, and reapply about every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating.
Be aware that sand and water can lead to sunburn more quickly because they reflect UV rays.
Avoid heat stress! Reduce activities during high heat and humidity levels.
Make sure children are well hydrated, and not feeling thirsty. Drink every 20 minutes while frolicking in the sun.
Wear light-colored and light-weight clothing, limited to one layer of absorbent material to facilitate evaporation of sweat.
Children should seek cooler areas if feeling light headed, dizzy or nauseous – make sure to hydrate them!

It goes without saying: NEVER, under any circumstances, leave a child in the car!

Windows act like a greenhouse, and trap sunlight and heat in the car.  Even temperatures in the 60s can cause a car temperature to rise above 110 degrees.  If the outside temperature is 83 degrees, and the window is rolled down 2 inches, temperature inside the car can rise to 109 degrees in only 15 minutes!  In warm weather, a vehicle can warm to dangerous, life-threatening levels in 10 minutes.  Cars in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures of 131-172 degrees when temperatures outside are 80-100 degrees.

Very high body temperatures can cause brain and vital organ damage, as well as heat stroke and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  If the body reaches 104 degrees F, heatstroke occurs because the body is unable to control its temperature, body temperature rises rapidly and the sweating mechanism fails -- the body is unable to cool down.  A body temperature of 107 degrees is fatal.

Tragic incidents happen when caretakers forget there is a child in the car, because they have deviated from a well-established routine. Put something in the front seat to remind you there is a child in the car -- a stuffed toy, perhaps, or even write something on the windshield with a dry-erase pen.

Unlocked cars at home are also a hazard. Children can climb into an unlocked car without parent’s knowledge and become confused or unable to open the door from the inside.  They can also lock the doors by leaning on the power control device and be unable to get out.  Lock your car doors when at home to prevent this happening.

Hyper-vigilance is never a bad thing when it comes to our children.  By following some simple rules and tips, you and your family can have a safe and happy summer!  Don’t forget the sunglasses!

Debbie Nichols, RN, BSN, is the Injury Prevention/Trauma Outreach Coordinator for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

References:  Skin Cancer Foundation; Center For Disease Control;

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