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Doc Talk Doc Talk: Summer activities bring possible health risks

  • Published Tuesday, July 3, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Summer is a season of relaxation and fun, but parents also need to be aware of the risks associated with summer activities. Each day, two children under the age of 15 die from drowning. It is the second leading cause of death for children 14 and younger. For each child who dies, four more children go to an emergency room for treatment of injuries resulting from being submerged in water. Many of those end up hospitalized, and the outcome can include severe brain damage.

Children from the ages 1 to 4 years are most at risk. In natural water settings such as lakes, rivers, or the ocean, the percent of drowning increases with age. When boating is involved, 9 out of 10 of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket. Deaths also occurred from trauma, hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. The use of alcohol is involved in half of the adolescent deaths.

Don’t expect a drowning person to yell for help or thrash around in the water. Drowning usually occurs silently and rapidly. Immediate CPR improves the outcome of a drowning victim. To help prevent drowning, a responsible adult, trained in CPR, should closely watch children when near the water. Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of death from drowning in those 1 to 4 years old. Do not rely on air-filled or foam toys to protect children.

Heat-related illness

With the increasing temperatures comes the risk of heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion occurs when people who are not adjusted to hot temperatures exercise or work in a hot, humid environment, losing a combination of fluids and electrolytes. Lack of hydration may cause a problem with the body’s circulation. Children who play outside in the heat for long periods or participate in strenuous athletic activities may not drink enough water. Parents should ensure that their child is very well-hydrated and takes frequent breaks to rehydrate and cool off.

Heat stroke can develop rapidly and is life-threatening. The body fails to regulate its own temperature, which may rise to 105 degrees or higher. There may be difficulty breathing, convulsions, confusion, a fast heart rate and skin that is red, hot, and dry. This is a medical emergency. Infants, children under age 4, the elderly and the overweight are more likely to suffer from heat-related illness. Parents should be aware of their child’s hydration and the risks of exercising in extreme heat or heat with high humidity.

Injuries caused by falling

The leading cause of nonfatal injury in children younger than 14 years is unintentional falls, and these occur mainly in the warmer months. The majority of falls in those younger than 4 years occur in the home. Infants sometimes fall from furniture or stairs, and toddlers sometimes fall from windows. Older children tend to fall from playground equipment. Curiosity, immature motor skills and lack of judgment place preschool children at increased risk of falling. Trampolines are another source of injury and can lead to broken bones or even neck injuries resulting in long-term disability. Trampolines should be surrounded by netting, and children should be supervised while jumping.

Lawn mowers

Each year, 200,000 people are injured in mowing accidents, and 16,000 of them are children. Power lawn mowers are adult tools, requiring that the person using the mower is cautious and follows safety precautions. Injuries can include severed fingers and toes, limb amputations, broken bones, burns and eye injuries caused by flying debris. Children younger than 12 years old should not operate a mower; the operator should be 16 years old for a riding mower. The operator should wear eye and hearing protection, wear sturdy shoes, start and refuel (with the engine off) outdoors, and clear the area of rocks and sticks before mowing. Children should never be passengers on a riding mower, and they should not be in the area where mowing is going on. Only an adult should set the blades.

Summer should be memorable for fun and relaxation. Taking precautions can help keep it that way.

Doc Talk is a column about health issues by Wichita-area physicians. This column was written by Rhonda Jeffries, pediatric hospitalist at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and Wesley Medical Center.

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