Dear Dr. Meryl
My son has poison ivy. Between ticks and poison ivy and whatever ‘dry drowning? is, I don’t feel safe letting the kids play outside anymore. I really don’t remember the world being so dangerous when I was young. Can I let the kid play in the woods or am I being an irresponsible parent for exposing him to Lyme disease?
Seeing Danger Everywhere
Dear Seeing Danger Everywhere,
Welcome to parenthood. Danger IS actually everywhere once you have children. I agree it can be overwhelming. Don’t fret. Here is a practical summertime survival guide made especially for you.
Danger #1- SUNBURN.
No matter what your child’s skin type, sun exposure can cause sunburn, with cumulative effects. So the sunburn your child gets at 3 or 4 years old will affect your child’s future skin health and potential to develop skin cancer later in life.
It’s easy to protect against sunburn. Any mineral-based child-safe sunscreen is a go-to solution and first defense against the sun’s rays. Apply sunscreen at least a half hour before playing outdoors. Keep SPF over 30, and when playing around water, waterproof is best, to be re-applied every half hour while outdoors.
Some manufacturers are now making clothing that is considered SPF friendly, and will protect children (and adults) from damaging sun rays.
Danger #2- DEHYDRATION.
You’d be amazed to find how easy it is to get dehydrated, and especially when playing outdoors and having so much fun, we forget to take a drink. Kids are especially susceptible to becoming easily dehydrated.
Dehydration symptoms range from severe headaches to nausea and lethargy, and are often not recognized by caregivers as dehydration.
When sending your young child or toddler to camp, provide a thermos of water and let the camp personnel know that the water container needs to be refilled. Ask personnel to be aware that your child may become dehydrated if not reminded to drink.
Danger #3- TICKS
Ticks are nasty little insects that attach onto your skin and can transmit Lyme Disease (among other diseases) while feasting on your blood. Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium living in the ticks called Borrelia Burgdorferi.
Within the first month after infection you may have a rash in the shape of a bull’s-eye, and/or flu like symptoms. When left untreated, chronic neurological deficits, joint pain, inflammation and heart arrhythmias may occur.
It’s smart to be aware and protect against tick borne illnesses. Reduce your risk by wearing long pants and sleeves when in tall grasses, and in wooded leafy areas. Have long hair secured and covered. Use insect repellent.
Upon returning home from outdoor fun, shower ASAP and conduct a full body tick check for you and your child. Placing clothing into the dryer on high heat for an hour would kill any remaining ticks that may be taking refuge in your clothing.
If you do find an attached tick, DON’T PANIC. Remove that tick using tweezers by grabbing it as close as possible to the skin and the tick’s head and putting it straight upward. Wash the area with soap and water. Deer ticks require over 24 hours attached on the skin before they can transmit Lyme disease. However, as a precaution, monitor the skin and health closely for the month following tick exposure.
Should you have over 24-36 hours of attached Lyme exposure or signs of early Lyme disease, call your doctor. Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics, and those treated in early stage often resolve completely.
Danger #4- POISON IVY, SUMAC AND OAK
These pesky plants emit a toxic oil that when in contact with your skin, develops into a small itchy spot. That itchy spot usually gets bigger and itchier before it gets better.
These poisonous oils can remain stable for years. That’s why you can get poison ivy/sumac/oak even from touching lawn equipment that’s been exposed to these oils, even from last summer.
You can defend against this by being aware. Use a protectant, such as IvyBlock, or carry a small vial of rubbing alcohol with you. If you’re going to be touching equipment that has ever been touched by someone exposed to these poisons, you should rub down the equipment with the rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
When playing outdoors, cover up as best as you can. Learn to recognize, and teach your child the leaf patterns of dangerous plants.
If you have a pet, don’t let your pet romp around in woodsy areas, because you can get this toxic oil from your pet as it clings to their fur.
If your child has been exposed, wash the exposed skin vigorously with soap and water as soon as possible. Wash clothing, outside if possible, so that you don’t transfer the oils into the house.
Treatments vary anywhere from home remedies such as oatmeal baths, or a mixture of cornstarch and milk, to more aggressive treatments like prescription strength oral steroids, depending on rash severity.
Danger #5- DRY DROWNING (and secondary drowning).
Water safety awareness is vital when young children are around water. Although ‘dry drowning? is extremely rare (making up only 1-2% of all drowning incidents) it does happen.
Imagine you take your child to the swimming pool. After a scary choking incident in the water, your little swimmer appears to be ok. You go home. You eat dinner. Before bedtime he is coughing and working too hard to breathe. Your child is drowning hours after water time has ended.
Dry drowning and secondary drowning occur when a child inhales water. The water can cause vocal chord spasm or inflammation and swelling in the lungs. In worst-case scenarios this can lead to respiratory failure and even death with symptoms presenting themselves up to 24 hours after the initial event.
Warning signs for a child in trouble may include coughing or choking, chest pain, vomiting, change in behavior (including fatigue or irritability), rapid breathing or difficulty breathing. If your child has a near drowning event, needs rescuing during your outing, or displays the above warning signs, it’s important to have the child checked by a doctor.
Thankfully, dry drowning and secondary drowning are very rare and most problems that develop are treatable if medical help is sought right away.
Prevention includes, careful monitoring during water play by adults, and swimming lessons.
Having armed ourselves for protection against the dangers of childhood and summer, the biggest danger is depriving our kids of a happy fun filled childhood. So knowledge is power, and we must use it of course, while ensuring our children the freedom to be kids while they can!