“Safeguards are often irksome, but sometimes convenient, and if one needs them at all, one is apt to need them badly.” ~Henry Adams
The National Safety Council observes June as National Safety Month. Their purpose is to increase public awareness of the dangers faced each day from hazards on the highways, in homes and communities, in the environment, and in the workplace. For this “Not Just For Kids” page, I will focus on the timely topic of summer safety.
Be certain that the pool is properly treated with chlorine to kill bacteria. Store all pool chemicals out of the reach of children. Don’t bring glass or electrical appliances into the pool area. Prevent accidents by not running around the pool, pushing, or engaging in horseplay. Don’t eat or chew gum while swimming. Make sure toddlers don’t swallow too much water when they are in the pool. There should be no diving in water that is less than nine feet deep. Keep lifesaving equipment, a first aid kit, and a phone nearby. Ideally, pool owners should be trained in CPR. Fences, latched gates, locked doors, and pool covers can prevent small children from going in the pool without your knowledge. All gates or doors leading from the house to the pool area should have a self-closing and self-latching mechanism, and the latch should be above the reach of toddlers or young children. Do not place objects (such as chairs or tables) near the pool fence that could allow a youngster to climb over. Keep toys, particularly tricycles, wagons, wheel toys, and balls away from the pool. A child playing with these could accidentally fall into the water.
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for infants and children under the age of five, especially in Arizona. Float rings and water wings are not life preservers and do not prevent drowning. Some inflatable toys can actually encourage drowning because they tip over easily or may deflate suddenly. There is no substitute for adult supervision. Keep your eyes on young children at all times, particularly at a crowded pool. Do not allow anyone of any age to swim without a “spotter” nearby. Children must be kept away from pools and spas in the absence of adequate supervision. A clear view of the pool or spa should be assured by removing vegetation and other obstacles. If you use a pool or spa cover, always completely remove the cover before using the pool or spa, to avoid the possibility of a small child becoming trapped and drowning under the cover. Never leave a child alone out of eye contact in or near a pool or spa, not even for a second! Even swimming lessons are no guarantee against drowning.
Many times, people do not realize they’re dehydrated until they’re in real trouble. We assume that our thirst mechanism will protect us, that if we become dehydrated, it will tell us by triggering intense thirst until we are properly hydrated. But this isn’t always the case. It is possible to lose fluid so quickly that the normal thirst mechanism is overwhelmed or overridden. The main sources of fluid loss are respiration and perspiration. The rate of loss will vary according to activity level, air temperature, humidity, and altitude. The average day’s loss of body fluid is generally replaced by the liquids we drink and the foods we eat. The recommended rule of thumb is to drink eight glasses of water per day. But the amount of fluid required can be significantly increased by exercise and sweating, especially in hot dry climates.
To combat dehydration, drink because you know you should, not just when you feel thirsty. Eating salty snacks will make you feel thirstier and thus you will drink more. (The Israeli army puts a little lemon juice in their water, which supposedly doesn’t quench their thirst as well as plain water, so that they will drink more.) Avoid coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages, since they cause fluid loss. The effects of mild to moderate dehydration include not just a dry mouth but also decreased coordination, fatigue, dizziness, headache, and impairment of judgment. Severe dehydration, however, is another matter. Simply drinking water is not enough in this case. It’s a medical emergency that requires immediate care. Symptoms include: extreme thirst, irritability, confusion, lack of sweating, little or no urination, sunken eyes, dry skin that has lost its elasticity, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, fever, and even delirium or unconsciousness.
Heat exhaustion, sometimes called heat prostration, is caused by electrolyte loss. The primary factor is the amount of sodium and chloride ions lost, rather than the amount of water. Heat exhaustion is not life-threatening. Little or no rise in body temperature will be noted. Symptoms include weakness, exhaustion, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, and sometimes muscle cramps. The skin may feel cold and clammy. Heat exhaustion usually comes on several hours after exertion and dehydration. The individual may have replaced lost fluids, but not the electrolytes. With enough rest and water, heat exhaustion is self-correcting. However, this condition can be treated rapidly with an electrolyte solution consisting of one teaspoon of salt dissolved in a liter of water, which should be slowly sipped over a period of sixty minutes. Add a tablespoon of sugar or sweet drink powder to replenish energy stores.
Heat exhaustion can be avoided by consuming enough water to replace the fluids lost, and eating salty foods or drinking a sports drink or electrolyte solution. Maintain a pace that allows your body to adapt to the heat. If you feel the symptoms of exhaustion coming on, you’re going too fast. It is especially important to pace yourself early in the hot, humid season. Your thermoregulatory system will gradually become more efficient as it gets used to the hot weather. Take a break during the hottest part of the day, the middle afternoon hours. Wear loose cotton clothing that lets air pass through and sweat evaporate. Wear a brimmed hat or cap to shade your head. Rest often, out of the sun.
Heat stroke (also called sun stroke) is a life-threatening emergency. Without proper care, victims will go into shock, suffer brain damage, and die in as little as thirty minutes. Heat stroke is especially prevalent in high humidity. If the body’s cooling mechanism fails, the body’s core temperature rises rapidly. In an effort to cool the blood and lower the core temperature, all of the blood vessels in the skin will dilate. As a result, the skin becomes red and hot. The brain can only function within a narrow temperature range. As the brain overheats, the person may have a bad headache, hallucinate, become disoriented and argumentative.
Heat stroke treatment should begin immediately, and the victim must be cooled down as quickly as possible. Move the person into a shady or air-conditioned area. Remove all non-cotton clothing and soak the victim with water, fanning them to increase the rate of evaporation, and massaging their arms and legs to encourage the return of cool blood to the body’s core. If there is a limited supply of water, cooling the head and neck becomes the top priority. If available, ice packs should be placed at the neck, armpits and groin, in that order. All heat stroke victims must be transported to the hospital as soon as possible, continuing the cooling process during evacuation. Heat stroke victims are also dehydrated and require rehydration.
The people most susceptible to heat-related illnesses are those who cannot get out of the heat, the very young, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions. Heat stroke, like all heat-related illnesses, is preventable. The same prevention methods that work for dehydration and heat exhaustion will work for heat stroke. The guiding principle is to stay well hydrated. Thirst is not a good indication of hydration so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, particularly before and during any kind of exercise or exertion. Don’t rely on your thirst mechanism to tell you when and how much you need to drink.
If you have to be outside, reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or evening if possible. Wear loose, light-colored clothing. A wide-brimmed hat will help keep your head and body cool. Be sure to plan plenty of breaks in a shaded or air-conditioned area. Above all, make sure to hydrate. Doctors suggest most people consume about four liters of water, which is slightly more than a gallon, throughout the day. If you’re going to be working outside or exercising, you will need even more. It’s also important to replace the salt the body loses to perspiration. Sports drinks can be a good way to do that.
Each year more than 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms and approximately fifteen children die because of playground injuries. Because nearly 70 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls to the ground, the playground’s surfacing is the first thing parents should inspect. Wood chips, bark mulch, wood fibers, soft sand, pea gravel, shredded tires and rubber mats cushion falls well. Avoid concrete, asphalt, grass, dirt, and compacted sand because they’re too hard. Look for exposed concrete footings, tree roots or rocks that could trip children.
Swings are the pieces of moving equipment that are most likely to cause injuries to children. Metal or wooden seats should be replaced with soft seats, and swings should be set far enough away from other equipment so that children won’t be hit by a moving swing. Full-bucket seats are recommended for babies and toddlers. Check for sharp edges and dangerous hardware, like open “S” hooks or protruding bolts. Slides should be well-anchored, have firm handrails and good traction on the steps. There should be no gaps between the slide itself and the platform. Spring-loaded seesaws are best for young children. A traditional type seesaw should have a tire or some other object under the seat to keep it from hitting the ground. Merry-go-rounds, “whirls” or “roundabouts” should have good hand grips, and the rotating platform should be level, free of sharp edges and have adequate clearance to prevent crushing or severing limbs.
More children are injured falling off climbing equipment or horizontal ladders than anything else on the playground. Children under the age of four shouldn’t play on this equipment. Watch older children when they’re climbing, check to see that steps and handrails are in good condition, and make sure a guardrail or barrier at least 29 inches high surrounds raised platforms. Any climbing ropes should be secured at the top and bottom. The number of injuries caused by monkey bars is so significant that many experts recommend that they be removed from all playgrounds.
Apply sunscreen thirty minutes before going outside and let it soak into your skin, even if you think you’re not going to be out for very long. Use an SPF of at least 15 or greater, and reapply it if you have been sweating or in the water. Limit your time spent outside between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm when the sun’s rays are strongest. Wear good-quality sunglasses that block out 100% of UVA and UVB light to protect your eyes, and wear a hat with a wide brim that shades your face. Loose-fitting clothes in tightly woven cotton fabric are best for blocking out the sun’s rays. Make sure that the back of your neck and your shoulders are covered. If your shadow is shorter than you are, it means you are standing in direct sunlight and you should seek shade. Be careful on cloudy days, because you will tend to stay out longer and can get sunburned without realizing it.
When boating, you must have a personal floatation device for every person on the boat. Children should wear a properly fitted life vest at all times. When participating in sports and activities where head injuries are a risk, both children and adults should wear a helmet. (These activities include: ATV riding, motorcycling, bicycling, football, horseback riding, rollerblading, rock climbing, skateboarding, baseball and softball.) Be sure that the helmet fits your child now, rather than expecting them to “grow into” it. A loose helmet cannot protect the head as well as one that fits properly. Wearing a helmet will greatly reduce the risk of serious head injury, brain trauma, and death. It is important for adults to be good role models by practicing appropriate safety behavior, too, since children learn by example. Remember-most accidents can be prevented!