With summer in full swing, children and adults are spending more time outdoors – and with that comes the risk for more accidents, injuries and heat-related complications.
“Swimming, biking, and other summer sports are all great activities that offer exercise and other health benefits,” said Dr. Karen Kepler of Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com). “But studies show that the potential for sprains, strains and broken bones, as well as more serious brain and spinal cord injuries, increases during the summer months. Many of these injuries can be attributed to the simple fact that more people are outdoors doing more things: whether it’s travelling to the beach, lake or pool; going boating; pursuing more extreme hiking and mountain biking; or just playing at the local playground. And what can make matters worse are the high temperatures and humidity levels that can result in heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.”
Children are at particular risk. For example, nearly 40 percent of playground-related injuries occur between May and September when children are out of school, spending more time outdoors and often without adequate supervision. It is estimated that this summer children will be rushed to emergency departments nearly 3 million times for serious injuries and more than 2500 children will lose their lives due to an unintentional injury according to a recent National Safe Kids Campaigns study.
To help minimize the risk of injury, Kessler Institute, a national leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, offers the following safety and prevention tips for children and adults:
● By the water: Always check the depth of the water before entering, whether you’re at a pool, lake or beach. If at the ocean, watch for sand bars and changing currents or riptides. Be extra cautious if diving and never dive into an above ground pool. Know your abilities and limits and always swim with another person. It’s best to swim in designated areas where lifeguards are present.
● On wheels: Always wear a helmet when cycling. Studies have found that this can decrease the likelihood of a serious head injury by up to 90 percent. Chinstraps should be secure and tight enough to only allow one finger between strap and chin and should be adjusted to keep the helmet over the forehead. Make sure the bicycle is the proper size for the individual and that tires are properly inflated. In addition, skateboarders and rollerbladers should wear knee and elbow pads to avoid wrist fractures and other injuries.
● At Play: A parent or other adult should check swings, slides and other equipment to make sure it is in good condition, and that children cannot reach any moving parts that might pinch or trap a body part. The protective surface of the playground should be constructed of rubber, sand or other soft materials that can reduce the risk of injury in the event of a fall. Children should wear sneakers or other well-fitting closed-toed shoes rather than sandals or flip-flops; hats, shirts and other garments should be free of ties or strings that can get caught on equipment. Be aware, too, that that on hot, sunny days equipment can easily become warm enough to cause serious burns.
● In the Heat: Staying hydrated is critical in helping to reduce the risk of a heat-related illness. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks with electrolytes and, if possible, stay in the shade or an air –conditioned place during the hottest part of the day. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, headache, muscle cramping, dry mouth or thirst, and fatigue.
Dehydration can often lead to heat cramps, which typically affect the muscles in the legs, arms or midsection, and heat exhaustion, which can cause profuse sweating, vomiting, headaches and muscle spasms. Most serious, however, is heat stroke, which occurs when the body is unable to adequately cool itself. Heat stroke, often characterized by a lack of sweating, elevated temperature, confusion and other mental changes, is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated promptly. Note that children are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses because their central nervous system, which regulates body temperature, is not yet fully developed.
“The majority of heat-related illnesses and summer injuries can be minimized by paying extra attention to weather conditions, as well as the level physical activity. Similarly, both adults and children need to be aware of basic safety precautions when swimming, biking, playing or otherwise enjoying outdoor activities at home or on vacation,” suggests Dr. Kepler.