Summer Heat Safety Tips
By Lee Vander Loop
CP Family Network Editor
CP Family Network Editor
Summer is nearly here! Kids are anxiously awaiting the end of the school year and families are beginning to plan summer outings, vacations and outdoor adventures. It’s a time of sports, outdoor play, family gatherings, and warmer weather.
With the additional sun exposure, we as parents have the responsibility of keeping our kids safe during the long, hot days of summer. We’ll highlight some of the risks the summer heat poses and what you can do to protect your children and family for an enjoyable, healthy and safe summer.
Protecting Kids from Sun Exposure
Many of us are all too familiar with the pain of sunburns. For parents of children with special needs, extra vigilance is needed. A non-verbal child cannot communicate to you when they are thirsty or feeling the effects of excessive sun exposure. Kids don’t have to be at the pool, beach, or on vacation to get too much sun. Their skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they’re outdoors. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that kids get 80 percent of total sun damage by the age of 18. Sunburn also affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. Follow these tips to keep your family safe this summer.
Timing is Everything
- Seek shade. UV rays are strongest and most harmful during midday, so it’s best to avoid outdoor activities during this time. If this is not possible, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella, or a pop-up tent. Remember, it’s important to take precautions before a sunburn occurs, not once the damage is done.
- Cool and cloudy? Children still need protection. UV rays, not the temperature, do the damage. Clouds do not block UV rays, they filter them—and sometimes only slightly. Make sure to take proper precautions even when the sun isn’t shining.
- Protective clothing. Clothing that covers your child’s skin helps protect against UV rays. A T-shirt, long shorts, or a beach cover-up are good choices—but it’s wise to double up on protection by applying sunscreen or keeping your child in the shade when possible.
- Get a hat. Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears, and neck offer the best protection. Baseball caps, although popular among kids, don’t protect their ears and neck. If your child chooses a cap, be sure to protect exposed areas with sunscreen.
- Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses protect your child’s eyes from UV rays, which can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
- Apply early and often. The CDC recommends the use of sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB protection every time your child goes outside. For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. Since no sunscreen is truly waterproof, reapply again after they’ve come from the pool or other water sports activities. Don’t forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet. Keep in mind, sunscreen is not meant to allow your kids to spend more time in the sun than normal, it’s meant to reduce damage from UV radiation. It doesn’t eliminate the threat.
- Protecting infants. Although babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct and indirect sunlight because of their increased risk of heat stroke, The American Academy of Pediatrics now advises that sunscreen use on babies less than 6 months old is not harmful on small areas of a baby’s skin, such as the face and back of the hands. Your baby’s best defense against sunburn is avoiding the sun and staying in the shade.
Precautions for Special Needs Children
- Medication precautions. Children on a variety of prescription medications are especially vulnerable to heat related illness. Check your child’s prescriptions for warnings in relation to sun exposure. The risk for heat-related illness and death may increase among children using certain medications such as drugs: (1) which affect psychic function or behavior; (2) medications for movement disorders or seizures, because some medications can inhibit perspiration; and (3) diuretic medications or “water pills” that affect fluid balance in the body.
- Wheelchair users. For children who are non-ambulatory and stroller or wheelchair dependent, extra caution is needed. Seek shade for your wheelchair dependent child and take all other necessary precautions listed here. Wheelchairs make heat even more unbearable. The cushions heat up and the plastic covers may cause excessive sweating, which can lead to dehydration and skin breakdown. Also be mindful that the metal portions of a wheelchair or stroller can become extremely hot in a very short period of time when exposed to direct sun. Protect your child from contact burns by covering any accessible arm rests and metal frame portions of the chair that your child may come into contact with. Wheelchair umbrellas are one way to provide added protection.
- Be prepared. If you plan on an extended outing, be sure to pack a cooler of ice and cold drinks. If you have a child who is tube fed and will need to be fed during the course of your outing, packing formula in a cooler with ice is a safe way to prevent spoilage. You’ll also want to keep small bottles of water in a cool place for any needed tube flushes, before or after feeds.
Avoiding sunburn and heat related illness is relatively straightforward if you follow these basic precautions. Being prepared, paying attention to weather conditions, and monitoring your child’s reactions to the heat and sun can help ensure your special needs child can enjoy outdoor activities this summer.
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