Before you know it, the kids will be out of school and enjoying summer. And while that usually means lots of fun for children, it can sometimes also mean an injury or a trip to the emergency room.
We talked about that with Dr. Karen Sheehan, an attending physician and medical director of the injury prevention and research center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital and Research Center in Chicago. Here's an edited transcript:
Q. Do you see more ER visits during the summer months involving children's injuries?
A. We do. I think it's because it's warmer, and kids are outside playing. We definitely in summer have our trauma season, when we see kids falling out of windows, getting hit by cars or falling on the playground.
Q. What are some of the most common injuries you see?
A. Broken bones are probably the most common. We also can see head injuries. Those are some of the most severe injuries we would see. Lots of lacerations in the summer from pets (children getting scratched), getting cut on glass or something like that that needs a suture. That's kind of our bread and butter: lacerations and broken bones.
Q. What are some of the most common causes for injuries among children?
A. Probably the most common cause is falling off of playground equipment or just running and falling. These are the two most common reasons for kids breaking bones. They could also fall off their bike or scooter.
People are just outside more and walking more, so they're going to have more opportunity to fall. It's almost like kids need to get their sea legs. As soon as we get our first few warm days, we'll have a rash of injuries at a higher rate. I think it's because people aren't used to being outside. By far, though, falls are the most common injury we see.
Q. What are some simple things we can do to prevent those injuries?
A. If your kids are riding a scooter or a bike, make sure they have an appropriate helmet. Window falls are a serious injury that I always worry about. We used to have a lot more in the city, and now we see a lot of our falls being transferred in from the suburbs.
Our message is don't open your windows more than four inches, and if you have windows that can open from the top, that's great. Also, get your furniture away from the window. The most important thing is that screens are made to keep bugs out, not kids in.
Because we see so many falls at playgrounds, having adequate safety surfacing is key. Some playgrounds have the rubber surfacing, and that's great. Others have wood chips, and they really should be maintained at nine to 12 inches. If you notice that your playground does not have enough wood chips, then contact your park district and let them know that it is not adequate.
Q. So, your child falls off the monkey bars and then goes quickly back to playing. A few days later he complains that his arm hurts. How do you tell if it's a broken bone that requires a doctor's visit or a sprain that just requires some ice and rest?
A. For younger kids (before their growth plates are developed — 12 years old for girls and 14 years old for boys), it's more likely that they're going to have a fracture than a sprain. If you see swelling, I would suspect a fracture. … If the child seems fine and then goes and plays, and then a day or two later is still complaining, I think you need to bring him in. Younger kids just don't get sprains the way adults do. The great thing is that kids' bones heal really well.
Q. Being outdoors all day is a summer ritual for some kids. What are three key things that should be done before or while kids are outside playing to keep them safe?
A. Again, wood chips and helmets. And supervision, too, depending on the age of the child, especially around pools or open water.
Q. What should you do to prevent sunburn?
A. Children should be lathered up with sunscreen, and (it should) be reapplied several times a day.
Q. What things should be in every parent's first-aid kit?
A. Hydrocortisone for the bug bites, Benadryl (helps with itching and swelling), Band-Aids, a topical antibiotic, an Ace wrap (if someone is unfortunate to break an arm, that can give a little support), moleskin (to help prevent against blisters), Tylenol and ibuprofen for pain.
Q. What's the most unusual accidental injury you've seen with a child?
A. I've had some kids — without their parents knowledge, and I wouldn't condone this — where they watch these videos on TV and jumped off their roof onto a trampoline because they thought it was a good idea, or rigged up a zip line in the backyard … but then they slide into the garage door.