Bare feet in cool grass on a hot day may be the actual description of paradise. However, running around barefoot can be hard on the tootsies, warns Jim Dwyer, MD, Chief of Emergency Services at Northern Westchester Hospital . The nature of injuries that put people in emergency rooms changes with the seasons, says Dr. Dwyer. In summer he sees everything from cuts on feet to heat stroke. Here’s how to protect yourself—and especially your children—when the mercury climbs.
“Lacerations to the feet are one of the most common injuries we see,” says Dr. Dwyer . “Splinters from decks, cuts from broken glass, et cetera.” He strongly recommends parents insist their children wear shoes during the summer months. While they’re putting shoes on in the morning, Dr. Dwyer also suggests parents lather the children up with sunscreen. “People come in with severe sunburns all the time. They’re just looking for relief, even though there’s not much we can do. Avoiding sunburns has to be about prevention, really.”
If there are woods nearby your home and your children enjoy playing in them, have them wear socks, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts, Dr. Dwyer suggests. Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme, Babeosis, and Ehrlichiosis are extremely common in this area and the only way to prevent infection is to avoid being bitten. “If your children won’t wear protective clothing, check their skin for ticks when they get home.” The long sleeves and long pants can also help prevent poison ivy rashes, as can prompt bathing after spending time in the woods.
Will the kids be doing a lot of biking? Helmets are mandatory, says Dr. Dwyer. Take the opportunity to educate them about safe riding such as respecting stop signs and other rules of the road. Definitely steer them toward areas where traffic is light, he says. What’s more, adults need to be extra wary of kids on bikes when driving through neighborhoods.
Another incredibly risky summer pastime is bouncing on a trampoline, believe it or not. “They really are fun,” says Dr. Dwyer, “but we see a lot of injuries in the ER from trampolines.” Even with safety netting, children can land wrong and break a limb.
Water safety is a perennial concern. If you have a pool, it should be fenced with a gate that locks, stresses Dr. Dwyer. When children will be swimming, there must be an attentive adult present, he says. Swim lessons for older kids and life preservers for the little ones are absolutely necessary. Another concern around water is thunderstorms. “If you hear thunder, you should leave the water immediately,” he says. Wait for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before you reenter the pool, lake, or ocean.
One other risk in the summer is heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These strike when your body can no longer cool itself; they’re particularly common in the very young and the elderly. The easiest way to avoid trouble is to stay inside during the afternoon and early evening. If your children are outdoors, watch for excessive sweating, flushing, and fatigue, which are signs of heat exhaustion. Caught in time, you can treat the problem by bringing them indoors where it’s cool, wetting the skin with cool water, and getting them to drink fluids. Should heat exhaustion progress to heat stroke, sweating can stop, body temperature can rise precipitously, and mental confusion can set in. At this point, a trip to the emergency room is in order. Sadly, a common cause of heat stroke in children is being left unattended in a car. “If there’s one thing to get across to parents, it’s never leave a child in a car alone. The conditions in a car are so hot that it can kill a child in 15 to 20 minutes.”
If you’re ever unsure about a child’s injury, don’t hesitate to contact your local emergency room, says Dr. Dwyer. “We’re here for you when things go wrong.”
Take a virtual tour of the Mary & David Boies Emergency Department at Northern Westchester Hospital.