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Today's Family Magazine

How to deal with pesky summer ailments

By Laura Reed

School is out, summer has arrived and it’s time for the kids to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors.

As a parent, however, you often deal with a variety of health-related issues that affect children during the warm weather months. Here are some preventive measures and treatment tips to help your kids enjoy a healthy summer.

Poison Ivy
It’s estimated that 70-90% of children are allergic to urushiol-secreting plants like poison ivy. Teaching your kids to identify these three-leaf clusters (“leaves of three, let them be”) and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants in areas where they are common are the best prevention tips available.

If your child comes in contact with poison ivy, it’s important to flush exposed areas as soon as possible (the plant’s oil causes a rash and intense itching and penetrates the skin within 10 minutes). Use water to rinse, but don’t scrub or rub.  Urushiol secretions also penetrate fabric, so carefully remove their clothing while avoiding skin contact.

Symptoms include rash, itching, swelling, redness and blisters that can develop from four hours to four days after exposure and last two to three weeks; especially for severe cases and those exposed for the first time.

Cold, wet compresses and oatmeal baths help relieve itching. Try calamine lotion to dry weeping blisters and astringents with aluminum triacetate (Burrow’s solution) to reduce the rash.  Antihistamines do not help with itching caused by poison ivy and over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone creams are not much help either.

When rashes occurs on the face, genitals or are spread over large areas, it’s important to seek medical attention as open, weeping skin is susceptible to infection. We often see patients at MinuteClinic with poison ivy who require prescription strength steroid cream or antibiotic treatment of a minor skin infection.

About 90% of skin cancer cases are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun – often from burns occurring at a young age.

Teaching children proper sunscreen use is critical.  Select a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF which blocks 97% of both UVA and UVB rays (a higher SPF only blocks and additional 1-2%).

When using lotion, the equivalent of a shot glass covers the exposed areas of the body. Make sure sprays reach the skin and are not wasted in the atmosphere. Apply 15 minutes before going outside. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or sweating excessively (no sunblock is waterproof).  Don’t forget their lips, and find a fashionable pair of sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat they’ll wear.

If they have a bad burn, try cold baths or showers and apply aloe or hydrocortisone cream. If anything more than a first-degree burn has occurred, have them evaluated by a medical provider as soon as possible.

Swimmer’s ear
Swimming causes water to collect in the outer ear canal where bacteria naturally grows. When the moisture doesn’t dry, fungal or bacterial infections can develop causing intense pain and itching. If this occurs, see a health care provider for evaluation.  An antibiotic to eliminate infection and prevent further complications may be needed.

For prevention, try mixing a 50/50 alcohol and white vinegar solution and pour several drops into each ear after swimming. Let it sit five minutes before draining. Then wave a blow dryer on low heat over the ear.

Insect stings
When a bee stings, gently scrape the area with a credit card edge to remove the stinger (using tweezers may release more venom).  Clean the skin with rubbing alcohol, apply ice and give your child ibuprofren as directed. An antihistamine or low potency hydrocortisone cream provides some benefit.

If the sting causes immediate swelling and breathing issues, your child is experiencing an anaphylactic allergic reaction, which is a 911 emergency.   Recognizing your child is allergic to bee stings becomes known right away the first time it happens.

If your child is allergic to bee stings, their health care provider may prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector. The device should be carried with them at all times and your child should be trained to use it when an emergency occurs.

Laura Reed is the mother of two boys (ages 10 and 22) and a nurse practitioner at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS pharmacy store in Chardon.