Summer Safety: Guarding against Sunburns, Bug Bites and other Outdoor Hazards

Before letting the little ones loose, make sure you've protected them from some of the potentially harmful elements of the great outdoors.

The days are longer, warmer, and sunnier, so who can blame your kids for wanting to get out and enjoy them?

Before letting the little ones loose, however, make sure you’ve protected them from some of the potentially harmful elements of the great outdoors, in particular the sun, bugs that bite, and poisonous plants.

Today’s Parent executive editor Sandra Martin advises monitoring your children when they’re outside, and watching for symptoms of sunstroke or dehydration.

“Kids are so happy to be outside, the weather’s finally nice. [But] you really have to keep an eye on them because they have a smaller body mass,” she says. “When it’s really hot and dry or sunny, those things will affect them quicker than they will us, so you’ve got to be the bad guy and keep them out of the sun at those peak times between 10am and 2pm.”

Use sunblock liberally – it takes the amount that would fill a shot glass to cover the face, ears, neck, hands and arms. Make sure you reapply if they’ve gone swimming or running through the sprinkler, or if they’ve been outside for awhile.

Sunburns do happen, however, and it’s important to recognize the signs of severe burns or sunstroke.

“If it starts to blister, you need extra help for that, you shouldn’t just be treating that at home,” Martin notes. “Same thing with sun exposure that might be causing sunstroke – if your child is incoherent or vomiting, that’s a sign that it’s gotten serious so you want to go to the emergency room to get treatment.”

Bug bites and bee stings are another less fun element of summer, and as a parent it’s good to know how to minimize the chances of both, as well as how to treat them if they occur. Parts of Canada experienced a wet spring, and because of that there’s talk of tick bites and the possible spread of Lyme disease. Martin says that while the Lyme disease-carrying bacterium is actually quite rare in Canada, you still want to know how to recognize a tick bite. Typically it’s a bullseye-shaped red mark, and if you see that you should go to emerg.

To guard against mosquito and other bug bites and stings, dress your kids in long, loose, light-coloured clothing, and if they’re over six months old, spray them with DEET. If you don’t want it in contact with their skin, you can spray DEET on their clothing before they put it on. Bugs like the early morning and dusk hours, so if you’re out at those times take extra precautions.

If your child does get bitten, use an anti-itch product such as AfterBite to help soothe the inflammation.

“Our moms always said, ‘Don’t scratch that bug bite!’ but it’s impossible when you’re a kid,” Martin says. “You can ease it with something like calamine lotion or AfterBite. You could even try applying a cold compress to it which is a good natural way of calming that itch.”

If you live in a rural area or have a camping or cottage trip planned this summer, pack a field guide so that you’re easily able to recognize poisonous plants.

“There’s an old saying for poison ivy: ‘If it has leaves of three, let it be.’ Teach your kids that. Tell them to stay away from plants they don’t recognize,” Martin says.

Mushrooms represent another possible toxin – kids may think it’s fun if mushrooms pop up in their backyard, but many of these are poisonous so remove them when you see them. This is important if you have pets as well – you don’t want them consuming funky funghi.

As long as you’re being careful, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the outdoors all summer long.

“I think keeping the exposure to the outdoors – I hate to say it because we’re always telling kids to be more active – but keeping it moderate or minimizing it during those danger hours [is important],” Martin says. “For bugs that’s early in the morning and at dusk, for sun and heat stroke that’s between 10am and 2pm. Really protect them, make sure they’ve got a big-brimmed hat on if you’re going to go for a walk or play outside during those hours and don’t let them stay outside for too long particularly if there’s a heat warning.”

For more info, check out the Today’s Parent Outdoor Survival Guide.