Summer safety: Tips to avoid heat stroke, sunburn and more

Swimming kids

At UChicago Medicine, we treat injury and illness, but we also we strive to prevent the preventable. To make sure you and your kids have maximum fun in the sun this summer, we're sharing these safety tips from Comer Children's Hospital pediatric emergency medicine physician Alison Tothy, MD, and Safe Kids South Chicagoland program coordinator Matt Louzon. Safe Kids is the first and only international organization solely dedicated to preventing childhood injury, the number one cause of death for children under 14.

Follow these tips, share them with your friends, and enjoy the season!

How to prevent heat stroke

Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, is prevalent in close spaces like cars.

"Cars can heat up more than 30 degrees in ten minutes no matter what the temperature is outside," Louzon said.

Tothy says the majority of hyperthermia cases they see in the emergency department result from parents leaving children in the car, and that a few minutes can be critical. Even if a child survives an episode of hyperthermia from being left in a hot car, they may experience brain damage or other complications.

Additionally, the two note that parents should be careful in the warmer months to not over-bundle their babies.

"Your baby needs just one more layer of clothes than what an adult would be comfortable wearing," Louzon said.

How to prevent sunburn and skin cancer

Everyone, regardless of skin color or tone, should wear broad-spectrum sunscreen.

"Remember to reapply sunscreen about every two hours, and after spending time in the water or sweating a lot," Tothy said. "One application of sunscreen in the morning won't protect you for ten hours in the sun."

Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against two types of sun rays, UVA and UVB. While UVB rays tend to be the ones that lead to sunburns, UVA rays put people at an increased risk for skin cancer.

Louzon also recommends people avoid bringing citrus fruits to the beach.

"When the juice from citrus fruits comes in contact with the skin, it will cause massive sunburns," he said. "One bad sunburn can significantly increase skin cancer risk."

How to prevent drowning

Hanging poolside with your friends and their kids? One of the best ways to prevent drowning is to designate one adult to watch your group of kids in the water.

"The key to preventing drowning is supervision," says Tothy. "It needs to be a responsible adult watching, so if you have a lot of people, it's really important to designate one person to pay attention to the kids in the pool."

This means putting down a phone, book, or any other potential distraction. Tothy notes it's also good to familiarize yourself with specific surroundings, since wildlife, rocks, currents and other potential dangers differ in lakes, rivers and other areas.

Real life drowning doesn't look the same as it does in Hollywood movies, Louzon says. It's difficult to tell if someone is struggling because they might not act out or gesture very much.

As obvious as it might seem, Louzon says it's a good idea for school aged kids to consider swim lessons. It's important to learn about riptides (the currents that pull you out into the water) and undertows (the waves that push you down and keep you there).

"Not even Michael Phelps could out-swim a riptide," he said. "Swim parallel to the shore until you get back out of the dangerous area."

And finally, have Coast Guard-approved life jackets on hand. Most of the cute arm floaties and inflatable devices may act as swim aids, but they're not designed to keep peoples' faces up and out of the water the way life jackets do. But remember, life jackets shouldn't replace supervision!

How to safely use fireworks

With the Fourth of July holiday approaching, you might be thinking about the perfect fireworks show for your party. Tothy says kids shouldn't be playing with fireworks, period.

"We see a lot of injuries from fireworks in the emergency department," she said. "Some kids lose parts of their hands or suffer extensive burns and even eye injuries."

"Don't take fireworks lessons off YouTube," Louzon said. "There's a viral video of people battling with Roman candles, to make it look like a fight scene out of Harry Potter. Don't do that."

Additionally, don't let toddlers handle sparklers, which can reach 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

"They're a huge source of burns that we see and treat," Tothy said. "It's another reason that supervision is so crucial during holiday parties where fireworks are present."

More information about Safe Kids South Chicagoland

Safe Kids South Chicagoland holds educational programming all summer long to educate people about these tips and lots more information on how to keep kids safe. For more information, visit their website.