Family Health
Pennsylvania Physicians Provide Health Care Tips to Enjoy a Safe Summer
May 29, 2014 - 2:32:02 PM

( - Harrisburg, PA - May 29 - The final school bells of the academic year are ringing, sending students from kindergarten through high school home for the summer. Time for camps, outdoor activities, and maybe a summer job. With the right plan and safety precautions, everyone - both students and parents - can enjoy a wonderful summer break.  But what are some of those precautions parents should consider if they want to avoid a misfortune? According to Pennsylvania physicians, a few easy things parents can do can make a difference.

First things first With many children off to camps, or being watched by grandparents or other relatives, Bruce A. MacLeod, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and an emergency medicine physician from Pittsburgh, suggests parents provide the caregiver with a medical consent card, such as ones available via download for free from the Pennsylvania Medical Society.  "For parents who will be relying on others to watch their child over the summer, they may want to make sure to have medical consent paperwork completed," says Dr. MacLeod. "In an emergency, this could help health care providers with background information on the child and expedite care." According to Dr. MacLeod, a medical consent form should provide information on the child such as any allergies, current medications, or known medical conditions.  The parents' contact information should also be included as well as insurance information.  Medical consent forms can also provide authorized caregivers to make emergency medical care decisions on behalf of the parent should the parent not be reachable. "Just a little information can make a big difference," Dr. MacLeod says.

Camps and Separation While most school-age children view going away to camp as an adventure, some may find it to be a scary thought as separation from parents may cause homesickness. "Homesickness is common," says Shivkumar S. Hatti, MD, MBA, president of thePennsylvania Psychiatric Society who practices psychiatry in Media, Pa.  "It's normal for a child to feel some degree of homesickness when they're away from mom and dad, particularly if they've never been away before." Dr. Hatti suggests that parents not give their child an easy way out if that's the case. "Parents are often tempted to tell their children they'll bring them home if they're not enjoying being away. But doing so will make them less likely to stick around, even if they're having a great time," Dr. Hatti says.  "Camp counselors are trained to know how to handle them. If there is a serious problem, they'll contact you if they feel your child should come home." Dr. Hatti recommends a test run first, such as a sleepover at a friend's house.

Recognize (and avoid) heat stroke. No sweat! The first sign of dangerous heat stroke can be just that - no sweat. As the temperature rises, your body's natural cooling mechanism, sweat, evaporates and helps to cool your body. But on those hot, humid cut-the-air-with-a knife days, evaporation is slowed and your body may not be able to keep itself cool.           "The best defense against any heat-related illness is prevention. Be extra careful when the heat index is 90 degrees or above. Always have your child drink plenty of water when the heat index is high and avoid caffeine.  If your child must be outdoors for sports or maybe a summer job, they should take frequent breaks inside or in the shade," says Allen Nussbaum, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  "Schedule breaks every 10 to 15 minutes during any activity that lasts longer than one hour." "If you take precautions and know the warning signs, you generally can prevent heat stroke." Dr. Nussbaum, who practices in York, Pa., suggests paying close attention to the following warning signs:

"These are signs that your child or anyone experiencing them should get out of the heat quickly and rest in a cool, shady place. Drink plenty of water or other fluids containing sugar and salt. If your child doesn't feel better within 30 minutes, contact your doctor. If heat exhaustion isn't treated, it can progress to heat stroke," explains Dr. Nussbaum. In addition, Dr. Nussbaum says to seek treatment immediately if any of these warning signs are present:

"If you suspect heat stroke, don't waste time.  Simply call 911 immediately," Dr. Nussbaum says. "While waiting for emergency personnel, move the victim to a cooler location, remove heavy clothing, fan the body and wet it down with a cool sponge or cloth, and encourage the individual to drink cool fluids."

Protect Skin As the weather warms up and children start heading outside more often, parents need to think about using good sun protection measures.  Dr. Justin Vujevich, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery and a practicing physician in Pittsburgh, instructs parents and their children to use a moisturizer with sunscreen every day, no matter what they are doing that day.  "Most of us receive our ultraviolet (UV) exposure in short exposure times, whether it's through the windshield riding in a car or walking home from a friend's house, but it adds up during the day.  If you apply a moisturizer with sunscreen to your face, arms and neck first thing in the morning, you won't forget.  Other tips Dr. Vujevich recommends:

Finally, Dr. Vujevich feels that parents also need to follow these sun precaution measures because kids copy their parents' behaviors.  "If the kids see mom and dad doing it, they are more likely to use these good habits."

Don't forget your eyes Drew Stoken, MD, FACS, an ophthalmologist from Carlisle, Pa., and president of thePennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology, says the sun can also damage your eyes.  "Studies have shown that, in addition to skin cancers, accumulated ultraviolet exposure from the sun can heighten the risk of eye diseases such as eye cancer and cataracts, a leading cause of blindness," Dr. Stoken says.  "It's best that a person wear 100 percent UV-safe wrap-around sunglasses." According to Dr. Stoken, for those who wear contact lenses, there may be some UV protection but the lens won't protect the entire eye.  Those individuals should also wear sunglasses. Dr. Stoken says that it's important that glasses block both UV-A and UV-B rays.  These glasses are typically labeled as either "UV400" or "100% UV protection."  "Don't use darkness of the glasses as a gage of the level of UV protection," says Dr. Stoken.  "Look for the label and also how close fitting the glasses are."

Helmets saves lives If your child enjoys activities like bike riding and longboarding or rides an ATV, then make sure they have a helmet and that they wear it properly.  Smacking your head off the ground can do significant damage that a helmet might prevent. "Every year, we see school-age children being rushed to the hospital, sometimes via helicopter, because the stunt they tried on their bike or longboard went horribly wrong," said Michael A. Bohrn, MD, FACEP, president Pennsylvania Chapter, American College of Emergency Physicians.  "A properly fitted helmet can provide some protection and possibly save a child's life." Dr. Bohrn, who practices emergency medicine in York, Pa., also suggests that parents be sure to properly equip their child with all necessary safety devices, whether the child is on a bike or some type of skateboard. According to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, brain injuries are often life-threatening and life-changing, yet only 29 percent of children admitted to Children's for bike injuries were wearing helmets when the injury occurred. The hospital, which helps run the "Kohl's Hard Heads Program," says that more than 85 percent of all head injuries could be prevented if helmets were worn.

Have fun!
There's plenty of fun to be had over the summer, and it's most enjoyable when all are injury-fee.  Time outside enjoying summer activities is great for your health and wellbeing.  Pennsylvania's physician community encourages you to take advantage of the summer by being active while practicing healthy habits.  That way, you'll have a safe and fun summer.

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The Pennsylvania Health News Service is a collaborative project consisting of 16 Pennsylvania medical and specialty associations and societies. The Pennsylvania Medical Society was founded in 1848. To learn more about PAMED, visit its web site or follow on Twitter @PAMEDSociety. You may also follow Dr. Bruce MacLeod via @PAMEDPrez.  Members of the media are encouraged to follow Chuck Moran on Twitter @ChuckMoran7.

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