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Summer Camp Health Tips – a Pediatrician’s Point of View

Summer camp experiencesLetting go of your child for a day, a week or even a month of camp during the summer is often a very difficult thing for parents to do, and initially, might be very difficult for the child. Most children, however, when they return from such an experience almost invariably have enjoyed themselves and gotten the first taste of living without parents. This can be an extraordinary experience for your child as he or she learns to live and be accountable for certain rules and restrictions.

Of course, you as a parent will worry the first couple of times your children go off “by themselves”. It may help to know that every camp is equipped with fairly up to date equipment and at least a very experienced nurse or Doctor. I myself did this (physician for an overnight camp for a 6 week period) just as I completed my Pediatric Residency and prepared to enter the Air Force. It was a rewarding experience for me and my family.

Most incidences of a medical nature are minor although very rarely a serious issue may occur. When you first apply for the camp for your child they will ask for a complete medical history including chronic or serious conditions that your child may have and any and all allergies, medication or non-medication related. This is an extremely important bit of information so try to be as specific as possible.

Teach your child ahead of time about the importance of such simple things as the proper use of insect repellents and sun blocks as these constitute the causes of the majority of the “problems” in the camp setting. They must also need to be taught the importance of reporting to the nurse or physician any issues they are worried about or are experiencing, as some children will do all they can to avoid seeing these people. If your child has a chronic disease such as asthma, he or she must be aware of the problems they can experience as a result of their illness and report such occurrences to the medical staff. Of course, the medical staff will also be familiar with such individual problems. They should also know about how to self-medicate (inhaler, etc.) if necessary.

Poison Ivy is also a very common occurrence as children spend more time outdoors, they should be told what it looks like and feels like so they can see the medical staff when necessary.

Other “problems” are injury-related and should be brought to the attention of the medical staff – fortunately the majority of these are also of a minor nature.

Finally, they will likely be taught about insects and other critters that can be encounter in the wild during the first days or weeks of camp; snakes, small mammals, spiders, etc. The camp staff will be very particular and complete when describing such encounters and will err on the side of conservatism while they are in charge of your child.

Wishing you and your kids a happy, healthy, and safe summer.

Water Workouts: Fun for Kids, Great (& Easy) Exercise for Parents

I am not one of those moms. Not the one who has an endless repertoire of educational and enjoyable crafts activities. Not the one who is genuinely excited about the endless games of trains or Candyland. Not the one who invites 10 5-year-olds over to make designer cupcakes from scratch, with matching hand-cut doilies, after the personalized pedicures. And I never really enjoyed watching many children’s TV shows or movies, with the exception of Lazy Town when my kids were little.

Let's go swimming for the first timeSadly my motivation for watching Lazy Town was not very pure. A truly wonderful show which encouraged an active lifestyle, exercise, friendship and kindness, I admit that I let my kids watch every afternoon when they were young because the star was a hunk and in those early days of sleep deprivation, baggy and stained clothing, my rear and stomach wobbling and sliding south and what felt like zero physical appeal it was like watching mom porn. Fit! Active! Positively Perky!

And then I found the answer. The pool. Not swimming laps, because I’d manage maybe 10 minutes of that before I was recalled to active mom duty, but in the best possible way that also played to my mom-strengths – teaching my kids to be safe while we all had active fun in the water. I got my mojo back (and my figure), which made me a much better mom who happily did some crafts and games and always made time for our beloved story time when my kids were happy and worn out from being in the water and we’d snuggle together.

Not that long ago, I wrote about how parents are the first lifeguard on duty for your child, which means you need to be in the water with less confident swimmers and arms-length from non-swimmers. I promised my tried-and-true fun for kids, great easy workout for mom or dad, so here it goes! Repetition is key, as many times as your child is enjoying the exercise and every time you go in the pool. Think of how many times you say ‘look both ways before you cross the street’ as your inspiration. The goal is to teach your child to not panic, to be able to possibly save themselves if they do find themselves in water unexpectedly, or at least give you a couple more minutes to find your missing explorer, and to give them a positive and enjoyable introduction to water.

Humpty Dumpty’s for upper body. Sit your young child on the side of the pool (mine started when they were 4 months old). Recite the nursery rhyme and when Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, lift your child and ‘fall’ off the wall, gently forward with their head always above water, then say the same words every time ‘turn around and hold on’ and place their clenched little fists against the wall. As your child gets older they will learn to turn and hold the wall on their own, they will be willing to have their head go under water as they ‘fall’, and eventually you can spot them while they fall, turn, and climb out themselves.

Monkey Hands for a full body workout. Hold on to the wall with your hands and have your child do the same. You are vertical and your feet will be against the wall helping to move you. Use ‘monkey hands’ to scoot around the pool to the ladder or steps. Start with a short distance, expand to the entire side or around the entire pool as you and your child build strength and endurance. You are teaching them to get to a place where they can climb out safely and building their confidence and muscles.

Helicopters for core and arms. Hold your child under their arms and twirl them around in the water with their feet in the water and their head and shoulders held well clear of the water. Children love the feel of the water rushing against their legs, and it’s better than a thousand crunches for you.

Coral Reef Dives for legs. When your child is old enough to dive under, stand with your legs wide and have them dive between your legs without touching. You can start with lifting one leg and then the other to give them more space. For my son, the budding marine biologist, he knew that coral is sharp and if he rubbed the coral and was cut it would attract sharks, which increased his determination, but that might be too much information for many children, so use your judgement. Fun, not fear is the goal.

Finally, anything you do in the water, whether it’s walking at the edge of the surf, walk in the water holding a baby, catching your child as they practice big jumps – it’s going to the gym times two because of the resistance of the water. No matter how you move in the water, it’s going to make you stronger, healthier and in much better shape. But you probably already knew that if you watched Katie Ledecky or Caeleb Dressel, or maybe you were a secret Lazy Town viewer like me.

Summer Hazards: Part II – Insects & Spiders & Snakes, Oh My!

Summer Hazards Part I focused on counteracting the effects of the sun: remaining well hydrated during the time of the year when fluid loss through activities can cause significant problems and minimizing the potential harm that can be caused by direct exposure to the sun. Part II focuses more on keeping your family healthy and safe this summer from the pests that come around summer – the insects, spiders and snakes – and the problems that often come along for the ride.

Insect bites:

Most insect bites are benign unless one is allergic to that particular insect. Unfortunately it is not possible to tell who is allergic prior to the first episode of reaction, however, most reactions are of a minor nature, e.g.: hives, general itchiness and red itchy eyes. These can easily be treated with an antihistamine by mouth such as Benadryl and cold compresses to the skin or the eyes. Of course the more serious reactions (usually due to vespids- bees, wasps and hornets) can be fatal but fortunately, they are rare, and usually do not occur with the first reaction. If you are one of the unfortunate few who are known to have serious reactions you will carry with you medicines that can significantly change the outcome of the reaction, e.g.: epipen or epipen jr. which is a form of epinephrine injected just under the skin for maximum (what can be life-saving) effect.

Other insects known to produce reactions or painful side effects include spiders and small insects such as ants. There are certain species of ants, such as fire ants, that are responsible for a painful bite that usually occurs after someone has stepped on a nest. Cold water or ice on the area along with such antihistamines as Benadryl, will help the stinging sensation. Certain large black ants can also bite but are usually not found in this country.

Only 2 spiders in this country should be avoided:

Black widow, notable for an hourglass orange imprint on the abdomen, is responsible for a very painful bite that can cause muscle spasm notably in the abdomen- usually not deadly but very painful. The other spider of note is the brown recluse spider which although looking very benign to the naked eye yields a very painful and tissue destroying toxin that can cause problems over the next several weeks. Ideally, the best treatment is avoidance as is true of everything discussed prior to this point.

Snake bites

also tend to occur when a human being inadvertently steps on or disturbs the animal. Although most snake bites are non-venomous in this country all bites can be painful and if you plan to spend any prolonged time outdoors (camping etc.) It would be well worth your while to study up on types of snakes and animals indigenous to the area and be prepared for a plan of action if an incident occurs. In general, an imprint consisting of two rows of teeth are usually from a non-venomous snake while 2 prominent puncture wounds are produced by a fanged snake usually producing a toxin of some kind. These bites tend to be very painful from the onset and only get worse with time. Other side effects can be very nasty and at times life-threatening. This person needs medical attention as promptly as possible.

Summer Hazards: Part I – Kids, Watch Out for the Sun

The heat of summer has arrived, and it is a good time to present some safety topics related to living in a warm environment.

Let’s discuss the advantage of remaining well hydrated during the time of the year when fluid loss through activities can cause significant problems. Some experts believe that everyone should drink 1 oz of fluid for every 2 pounds of body weight per day. Admittedly that is a large amount of fluids but our bodies are more than half water and the millions of chemical reactions that are ongoing in our bodies every minute of every day require water, among other elements to keep going. In hot and humid weather, the elements work against us to keep that fluid reserve “topped off”. Exercising during this kind of weather exacerbates the potential for water loss and subsequent poor regulation of body temperature. It is this poor regulation of body temperature that can lead to the various forms of disease after heat exposure, ranging from mild to life-threatening. So, stay very well hydrated during the summer months and stay alert to the problems that can arise with exercise and poor fluid intake.

Everyone likes the appearance of tan skin and unfortunately, the source of that sought-after appearance is the sun. A certain amount of sunlight is a very good thing and in fact, a lack of sunlight over time can lead to such problems as vitamin D deficiency and poor control of calcium metabolism and regulation. The downside of this exposure is that the UVA and UVB rays given off by the sun and absorption of those rays through your skin can damage the skin leading to lack of elasticity and signs of early aging. Far worse than this effect is the tendency to alter the genetic characteristics of skin cells that can lead to cancer of the skin, especially the most severe form, melanoma, which can be fatal.

Fortunately, there are things that can be done to minimize the effects of exposure to the sun.

  • Try to avoid exposure to bright sun between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM when the sun’s rays are most direct and therefore stronger.
  • Make use of the various sunblocks on the market. These sunblocks are usually designated by an SPF number that attempts to give us, the consumers some way of comparing them
  • Regardless of the SPF number, the sunblock needs to be applied and reapplied every couple of hours in order to give the protection it promises. The higher the number gives you some idea as to how often it needs to be reapplied. The higher the number, theoretically the less often it needs to be applied.
  • Make it a rule of thumb to reapply all sunblock at least every hour or two, and, if your skin gets wet, it may need to be applied more often.

My next post will deal with other summer hazards; insect bites, poison ivy, and miscellaneous others.

What’s the Best Way to Treat Your Child’s Bee Sting?

The best way to treat a bee sting is to avoid bees in the first place, so stay away from hives or other areas that you know shelter bees. Brightly colored clothing, perfumes, sugary foods and sugary beverages also attract bees, so avoid these lures when you’re outside.

If your child is stung, the key is to stay calm. Kids are usually frightened and defensive, so it’s essential for you as the parent to take control before you can help.

If the stinger is visible, remove it to get rid of the source of the pain-inducing venom. Most people instinctively use tweezers or try to squeeze the stinger out, but flicking it off with a credit card works best to avoid squeezing more poison into the wound.

Once the stinger is removed, wash the area with soap and water. Apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling and numb the pain; a topical antihistamine cream can also alleviate any other unpleasant symptoms.

Some children are severely allergic to bee stings, and unfortunately you usually don’t discover this until the first time they’re stung. If your child complains of pain outside the sting region, if she has difficulty breathing, or if you notice a rash covering her body, she may be experiencing anaphylaxis, which can be a life-threatening allergic reaction. Call 911 immediately.

A Little Change & Prep Now, A Year of Safety for Your Family

Time for a changeGreetings to all and I hope everyone is having a great 2023 thus far. It’s hard to believe we are already in March, and with the month of March comes the beginning of spring and a time for change and preparation.

As the saying around the firehouse goes: when the clocks change, its time to change the batteries in all of your detectors in your home, whether they be smoke or gas detectors.

A properly functioning detector is key in the safety of you and your family in early trouble detection from smoke, flames and harmful gases in your home day and night. So please do not put this off, it only takes a few minutes and can make all the difference in the world and while you are at it, maybe you can make a fun family fire drill out of testing your new batteries in your detectors.

The preparation part of what I would like to talk about is the fact the spring is here and that means that summer is rapidly approaching. With summer comes the kids being home, at camp and almost assuredly being around water a lot more than the rest of the year. I cannot stress enough the importance of water safety and preparedness. Enrolling children in swimming lessons or teaching them yourself now is a great way to give them added protection for the summer months ahead. It is an all too common occurrence in the summer that children have near drowning or complete drowning events in pools or lakes and in many of these cases the child was not taught how to swim. Please contact a local instructor or organization in your area and arm your child with the ability to swim and in the mean time get some good fun quality time together.

Thank you and I wish you health and happiness.

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