A few precautions can help youngsters avoid season's pitfalls SUMMER SAFETY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Summertime, when it's easy to have fun and easy to get hurt, is nearly here. Children -- rambunctious, unmindful of heat and sun, and eager to attempt warm weather physical challenges -- are especially vulnerable to a variety of seasonal injuries. Here is a checklist of precautions to make this a fun and healthy summer.

*Wear a bicycle helmet. It's only May "and we have one kid in Shock Trauma from a bike injury," says Dr. Cheryl Parks, a pediatrician at Greenspring Pediatrics. Head trauma is the leading cause of death in bicycling accidents. With the use of helmets, such injuries "could be preventable," Dr. Parks says.

*Use appropriate protective gear in other sports. When the summer sports season is in full swing, "We have a slew of eye injuries every week," says Dr. Stuart R. Dankner, a pediatric and adolescent ophthalmologist in Baltimore and president of the Maryland Society to Prevent Blindness. Sports goggles and helmets with face shields made of polycarbonate plastic protect against "very dangerous, blunt injuries" that can cause permanent visual loss, Dr. Dankner says.

*Guard against heat exhaustion. "If it's really hot, pay attention to the heat, humidity and the air quality index," Dr. Parks says. "If all those things are high," it's not a day for children to participate in aerobic sports such as basketball or jogging. During heat waves, "kids should not be spending a lot of time outside. Have them come in and take a break and drink water and then go out again," Dr. Parks advises.

In addition, dress children in lightweight clothing of breathable fabrics like cotton.

*Practice water safety. "Most drowning deaths occur in rivers and streams, backyard pools and other bodies of water around the home. No child can ever be in or around the water unsupervised," says Dr. Modena Wilson, director of primary care of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and columnist for The Sun.

If your child is ready to learn to swim, shop around for a strong aquatic program, preferably one certified by the American Red Cross.

Remember that aids such as inflatable tubes, air mattresses and water wings are not a substitute for swimming ability. Allow children to dive only in known waters that are sufficiently deep.

Small plastic pools for infants and toddlers should be emptied and turned over when not in use. On boating excursions, parents as well as children should wear a personal flotation device.

*Protect against the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. "Most skin damage occurs between the ages of 5 and 15 and can have a major influence on the development of skin cancer later in life," according to Dr. Perry Robins, president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Care givers can begin applying sunscreen to infants when they are 6 months old, Dr. Robins writes. He recommends using a non-alcohol-based sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher and to use water-resistant sunscreen for swimmers. Children should be covered as much as possible with protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats. It is best for children to play outdoors before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m.

Ultraviolet light is also "potentially dangerous to the eyes," says Dr. Dankner. Look for sunglasses with maximum or 100 percent protection, he says. Infants or toddlers who may not tolerate sunglasses should wear hats with visors, Dr. Dankner says.

*Be aware of poisonous plants. Teach children not to consume mushrooms or wild berries. Teach children not to consume mushrooms or wild berries. Red leaves and berries may be a natural warning of toxicity, but many plants with green foliage are also poisonous if ingested.

Symptoms of poisoning range from digestive tract irritation, vomiting and diarrhea to signs of cardiac and central nervous system toxicity, says Wendy Klein-Schwartz, director of the Maryland Poison Center.

Keep syrup of ipecac on hand to induce vomiting, but call a doctor or the Maryland Poison Center before administering first aid.

Show children what poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac look like and guard against exposure with protective clothing

*Avoid fire hazards. Fireworks should be enjoyed at public shows only, Dr. Wilson says. Children are "unlikely to die from fireworks injuries but they are likely to lose eyes, hands, and other parts of their bodies," she says. Sparklers, as well, "burn at incredibly high temperatures" and are dangerous, Dr. Wilson says.

Children should not go near outdoor grills and camp fires without adult supervision.

*Prevent insect stings. Dress children in tightly woven clothing and make sure they are wearing shoes. If necessary, spray clothing sparingly with insect repellent containing DEET. "Generally, we try to avoid insect repellent on little kids, even the ones that are supposedly safe," Dr. Parks says. Children exposed to insect repellent should be bathed thoroughly.

Parents of a child who has had a serious reaction to a sting or has a strong family history of severe reactions, should consult a doctor who may prescribe an emergency bee sting kit, Dr. Parks says. This kit should travel with the child.

If a child who has been stung is "having trouble breathing or talking, it is a sign of swelling all over the body . . . and it is critical to get an ambulance," Dr. Parks says.

*Protect against tick bites and Lyme disease. Reported cases of Lyme disease in Maryland climbed from four in 1983 to 274 last year, according to David Weld, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation. It is now prime time for ticks, which transmit the disease. To avoid them, Mr. Weld advises covering up, tucking pants inside socks and shirts inside pants. Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks more easily and stay on paths when walking through woodlands.

"Parents have got to examine kids every single day" for ticks, Mr. Weld says. Children should tell their parents or care givers if they find a tick or tick bite on their body, he says.

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