Summer Health Survival Guide

14/08/2014 17:03 | Updated 20 May 2015

Summer health tips for children and parents

It's absolutely brilliant when the sun comes out. We can finally enjoy long, warm days outdoors with our children, hopefully somewhat freer of the bugs and viruses which do the rounds all through the winter.

But summer comes with other potential health issues which every parent needs to be aware of. Here are some tips for keeping your babies and children happy and healthy all summer long...

The sun has got his hat on!

Hip hip hip hooray! But do make sure that your little one has their hat on too.

It's really important that young children are protected and covered up when the temperatures soar. Sunburn is unpleasant at best, and dangerous at its worst, and children are especially prone because of their young skin.

Babies under the age of age of six months should be kept out of direct sunlight all the time. Their very new skin doesn't contain very much melanin, which is a pigment that gives skin some protection from the sun.

For older babies and children, the best advice is to keep them in the shade when the sun is strongest – in the UK that is between 11am and 3pm.

Even when babies and children are playing in the shade (or if it's an overcast day), you should protect them with a high factor sunscreen in the summer. Damaging UV rays can penetrate clouds, and they can also bounce of surfaces – meaning children could still potentially burn, even when playing under the shade of a tree.

The NHS advises parents to choose a factor of 15 or above for children, and a sunscreen which protects from both UVA and UVB rays. Of course, you can buy sunscreen with a much higher factor – up to 50 – and the higher the protection, the better.

Although the quality of protection is the most important thing, you might want to choose a sun cream specially designed for children, as it may be less likely to irritate their skin.

Even if you choose the highest factor sunscreen, it still needs to be applied frequently – every two to three hours, and always after your little one has been in the paddling pool, swimming pool or sea, because the water will wash some of the protection away.

Some sunscreens have an expiry date on the bottle, and this is because the chemicals the cream or spray contains can deteriorate, and offer less protection. So, if what you have in the cupboard is out of date, do buy a new bottle. Or, if you can't find an expiry date on the bottle, the advice from Cancer Research UK is to buy new sunscreen every year.

When applying sunscreen to your child, do be thorough. Use plenty, and apply the cream everywhere they won't be protected by clothing. Common places to burn are noses, the tops of ears, shoulders and the neck – so make sure none of these areas are forgotten!

Sunscreen shouldn't be relied upon to protect your baby or child from the sun – clothing is important too. Dress them in long sleeved cotton tops, and loose, light trousers. A wide-brimmed hat will help protect their face and neck.

Keeping their cool

It's not just the direct sun which can affect children in the summer. When the weather is very hot they can quickly become overheated.

While just being hot might make children grumpy and irritable, if they're too hot for too long, they could develop heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, and children under the age of two are more at risk.

So, as above, keeping children out of the sun during the hottest part of the day is important. Playing in water is a great way for them to keep cool – but keep the paddling pool in the shade and be sure they are under constant supervision.

Drinking plenty of water is essential, because if your child becomes dehydrated, it could be a serious health concern. Offer plenty of cool water – and make sure your child is taking sips often, especially if they are enjoying scampering round the garden or park.

When temperatures are at their highest, you can keep the house cooler by leaving curtains and blinds closed during the day. Definitely do this in your child's room – when the weather is very warm, it'll be more effective than keeping a window open.

And at bed time, a quick, tepid bath or shower should cool them off and help them get to sleep.

Ouch! Take the sting out of insect incidents

Being outdoors more means your child will be spending time with all sorts of fascinating little beasties – and, unfortunately, to a baby or toddler, a bumble bee on a dandelion is just as fascinating as a wandering woodlouse.

In the UK, common summer stingers are bees and wasps (occasionally hornets), while critters which bite include mosquitoes, gnats, midges and horseflies as well as some spiders and ladybirds.

Usually a bite or sting won't be serious – but it won't be pleasant either, and is likely to feel quite bothersome to a young child.

If your baby or child is stung, you'll know about it, because it'll hurt. Wasps don't leave their sting in the skin, but it'll soon develop into a sore, itchy swelling.

Bees, on the other hand, do leave their sting. To remove a sting from your child's skin, it's best to scrape it out, either with your fingernail or something hard, such as a bank card. If you pinch the sting with your fingertips or tweezers, you could squeeze more of the venom into your child's skin, and make the symptoms worse.

Once the bee sting is removed (or straight away for a wasp sting), rinse the area with some soap and cool water. Then wet a clean flannel with cold water, and use it as a compress – this will help to reduce the swelling.

Sometimes this will be enough and no more treatment will be required – but if the sting continues to hurt, you can give your child the appropriate dose of liquid paracetamol (as long as they are over two months old).

If the sting is very itchy, the appropriate dose of a liquid antihistamine will help. You could also try a cream which contains antihistamine or a local anaesthetic – but check with your pharmacist, as many creams are suitable only for children aged two and over.

If your child can't help but scratch, trim their nails and keep their hands as clean as possible, to help to prevent the area becoming infected.

Bites can also be bothersome. You might not always know what insect has bitten your child, but you can use the same treatment as for stings – a cold compress, medicine if they seem to need it, and keep their fingernails short.

If the area where your child was bitten becomes very red and swollen, if there is pus, and/or if they feel unwell (rather like they have flu), they might have developed an infection – in which case you should take them to the doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics.

Here's to a happy, healthy (and hopefully long) summer!

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