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Feature Story

Shake summer woes away!

By By Korina Tanyu, M.D.

APRIL 2013

School’s out! For children, it’s the time to enjoy freedom from school, relax and have fun. But summer activities also carry risks. Parents should be on the lookout for the season’s potential threats to their kids’ health and safety.

Heat-related illnesses

Summer usually means outdoor activities—and exposure to intense heat. It’s not surprising conditions like sunburn and heatstroke abound.

The human body cools itself through sweating and dissipating heat. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people at the highest risk for heat-related illness are the elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases. Babies and children differ from adults in that they sweat less, and only at more elevated temperatures—meaning they are less adaptable to extreme heat.

There are three categories for heat illness:

• Heat cramps usually occur with mild dehydration and salt depletion. They’re usually felt in the calf and leg muscles, and relieved by stretching and hydration with an electrolyte-containing solution.

• Heat exhaustion manifests with symptoms like headache, nausea and vomiting. Treatment includes moving to a cool environment, fanning the body, removing excess clothing, and placing ice over the groin and underarm areas.

• Heat stroke is a medical emergency and the most dangerous of the three. Signs and symptoms include dry but hot skin, rapid pulse and difficulty breathing. It may also accompanied by severe neurologic disturbances. Bring the child to an emergency room if you suspect heat stroke.

Dehydration is common to all heat illnesses; hence, preventing it is a must. Thirst is not an adequate indicator of dehydration, as the human body responds with thirst when it is already two to three percent dehydrated. Before any outdoor activity, ensure that the child is well hydrated. Cecilia Alinea, M.D., a pediatrician at the Philippine General Hospital, advises that drinking as many as 12 glasses of water a day and taking “hydration breaks” in the middle of sports activities or outdoor games prevent dehydration and allow the body to perform more optimally. Wearing proper clothing can also aid heat dissipation.

Skin disorders

Skin disorders are also common during the summer months. According to Dr. Alinea, this is due to the physiology of children’s skin: “Younger skin has a higher pH, less fatty acid content, increased [susceptibility to] water loss and … absorption, and thermal instability. These physiologic features, as well as the presence of smaller pores that prevent adequate evaporation of sweat, plus exposure to heat from the sun, easily cause skin dehydration—leading to dryness, irritation, development of breaks in the skin and eventually, … skin infection.” Kids tend to scratch more and moisturize less, making them prone to skin disorders.

The usual culprits include sunburn, miliaria, impetigo and intertrigo. Sunburns are first degree burns due to overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Miliaria or bungang araw occurs when sweat causes inflammation in the deeper layers of the skin. The sweat glands become blocked and do not deliver sweat to skin surface, causing the skin to be dry, irritated, itchy and sore. Impetigo develops when bacteria infiltrates the skin. Intertrigo, also known as superficial inflammatory dermatitis, is found in areas with creases and folds. The combination of sweat, friction and heat makes the skin more irritated and prone to secondary bacterial infection.

Dr. Alinea advises parents to moisturize their children’s skin with mild lotion containing anhydrous lanolin to prevent blockage of sweat ducts. Kids should also wear breathable clothing. Keeping children’s hands and nails clean, as well as using antibacterial soap, may help prevent bacterial infection. If the skin irritation is severe, doctors may prescribe a steroid cream to reduce the inflammation.

Sunburns may be prevented by applying sunblock 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. The World Health Organization advises to limit exposure to sunlight between 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., when UV radiation is strongest.

Swimming safely

The CDC states that in about 10 people who die every day from unintentional drowning, two are below 14 years old. Factors that affect drowning risk include lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, location, failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use, and seizure disorders.

The CDC’s tips for water safety include:

• Supervise kids in or around water. A designated adult—not just the lifeguard—should watch over the kids at all times.

• Use the buddy system. Always have kids swim with a friend.

• Practice seizure disorder safety. If the child has a seizure disorder, ask him to wear a life vest and provide one-on-one supervision when swimming.

• Let kids learn to swim.

• Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Local Red Cross chapters and training hospitals provide lessons on CPR.

• Remember that air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices.

• Don’t drink alcohol when supervising children.

• Know how to prevent water-related illnesses. As mentioned, water can be a source of illnesses for children.

Intense heat causes food to spoil easily, and bacteria grow faster in the warm, humid weather. Find out how you can prevent food-borne illnesses—and other contagious diseases—in the April issue of HealthToday.

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