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Summer Safety: A doctor's tips for heat, water and playground safety
Article Index
Summer Safety: A doctor's tips for heat, water and playground safety
First Aid Guide
All Pages

by Elizabeth A. Pector, M.D.


Summer brings long, hot days -- perfect for water play, travel, and recreation. Plan carefully to avoid an unscheduled side trip to the emergency room!

mother_and_son_on_beach.jpgHEAT WAVES
Dangerous heat, thunderstorms, tornados and other severe weather may occur, so check forecasts before going out. It helps to know the definitions of some hot National Weather Service terms.

  • Heat Wave means more than 48 hours of temperatures over 90 degrees F with humidity over 80 percent.
  • Heat Index, calculated from temperature and humidity, tells how hot it feels in the shade. A heat index over 90 degrees is dangerous. Full sun makes it seem 15 degrees hotter.
  • Heat Advisory warns that an excessive heat event is here, coming, or very likely in the next 36 hours. Conditions are at least a nuisance, and may threaten life.
  • Excessive Heat Event is a daily heat index over 105 degrees F in the northern U.S., or over 110 degrees further south. The three levels of concern are:
    • Outlook: event is possible in the next three to seven days
    • Watch: event is possible in 12 to 48 hours
    • Warning: event is occurring, imminent, or highly probable within 36 hours and threatens life and property
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HEAT SAFETY
Heat-related illness occurs when your body can’t properly cool itself. The body’s main way to cool off is perspiration, and sometimes that can’t keep up with demands. When it’s humid, increased moisture in the air slows sweat evaporation, and body temperature can rise dangerously.

People who have trouble regulating body temperature are at greatest risk, including seniors and children; users of antihistamines, stimulants, some prescription drugs, or alcohol; and people with sunburn, fever, dehydration, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mental illness or poor circulation.

To avoid wilting in the heat:

  • Stay in an air-conditioned home or public place. Electric fans aren’t helpful when the temperature soars to the high 90s because hot air can’t efficiently absorb heat and carry it away from your body. Your state health department can tell you about local heat-relief shelters.
  • Keep drinking; don’t wait until you’re thirsty. The shock of ice-cold drinks can cause stomach cramps, so choose cool beverages. Avoid diuretics like alcohol and caffeine, and sugar concentrations over 10 percent which may trigger nausea. If you are on a low-salt diet, check with a doctor before consuming sports drinks.
  • Exercise before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., and drink two to four glasses of cool fluids every hour while active.
  • If you go out, rest often in shady spots, and wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothes, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen. (Loosely woven, light-colored clothes don't reflect UV rays as well as more tightly woven, darker ones. If you're out a lot, you may check into UV protective clothing.)
  • Never leave a child or pet in a car.
  • Check frequently on seniors who live alone.

wave.jpgWATER SAFETY
Water is a refreshing way to cool off, but you must keep your cool around it. In 2000, there were nearly 3,500 nonboating drownings. In boating accidents, 4,300 were injured, and of another 700 who died, 80 percent weren’t wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs, or life jackets).

Children from 1 to 4 years old drown most often in home pools, usually near a parent, fewer than five minutes after they were last seen. Moreover, 25 to 50 percent of teen and adult water-recreation deaths involve alcohol.

To reduce these tragedies, follow these tips, drawn in part from both the American Academy of Pediatrics and Safe Kids USA . (Click here for Safe Kids Worldwide.)

  • Watch kids constantly around water.
  • Enforce rules: No running, jumping or pushing others around water.
  • Teach kids over 4 to swim.
  • Use hard, lockable covers on hot tubs, spas or whirlpools.
  • Install 5-foot-high fences with self-latching gates around swimming pools.
  • Keep rescue equipment near pools, learn CPR and consider a pool alarm.
  • Install and frequently inspect multiple drains with dome-shaped covers in pools, hot tubs, spas and whirlpools to prevent suction-related entrapment of hair or body parts.
  • Know where the pool pump’s manual cutoff switch is.
  • Kids should only swim with a buddy, under adult supervision, where it’s posted safe to swim, and near lifeguards. Adults should test water temperature and check undercurrents in open water.
  • Kids should never swim in fast-moving water.
  • Don’t dive unless water is over 9 feet deep.
  • Empty all buckets of water to prevent drowning of young children, including at the beach.
  • Wear Coast-Guard-approved personal flotation devices near open water, during water sports and on boats--even at a dock. Water wings or floaties aren’t adequate to prevent drowning.

PLAYGROUND SAFETY
Each year, 200,000 children visit emergency rooms after playground injuries. Falls and strangulation cause most of the rare deaths.

At public playgrounds, parents must check railings and look for broken glass, garbage and sharp edges or bolts. Around your home playground, place an appropriate amount of a shock-absorbing material, to meet Consumer Product Safety Commission specifications .

Look for tight spots that could strangle or pinch a child or trap her head. Open S hooks can catch clothes. Kids should not wear drawstrings on clothing, attach ropes to playground equipment or walk near a moving swing.

We hope these hints help you have a safe, cool, and fun summer!


A family physician for 15 years, ELIZABETH A. PECTOR, M.D., is a family physician with Spectrum Family Medicine in Naperville, Ill.

Last updated and/or approved June 2008.
Original aricle appeared in summer 2004 issue.



 
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