By Linda Formichelli
Summertime and the living is easy…or is it? You and your toddler are having a great time playing, swimming and walking outdoors—but with all of this fun activity comes the risk of health woes ranging from bug bites to sunburn. Prevention of these conditions is the best-case scenario, but failing that, knowing how to treat them and when to seek professional help are paramount. Here’s how to prevent and treat your little one’s summer health bummers so you can both enjoy the long days and beautiful weather.
1. Hold Off Heat Rash
When a tot’s sweat glands get plugged, the tiny, clear, fluid-filled blisters or red bumps of heat rash may appear. It typically occurs under clothing and on areas that have been pressed against a car seat or stroller.
Prevent it: Keep your child cool. Use fans and air conditioners when possible, and dress her in light, loose cotton clothing.
Treat it: “A tepid bath, blot-drying and a light layer of cotton clothing should be sufficient,” says Anthony J. Mancini, MD, head of pediatric dermatology at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “The rash will usually fade on its own over 48 to 72 hours.” Cold compresses will help relieve discomfort. Avoid ointments and lotions, which can cause the rash to worsen.
See your pediatrician if… the rash doesn’t resolve within 48 to 72 hours with a tepid bath and light clothing, or if it’s accompanied by blisters, pus-filled bumps or fever, which may indicate infection, eczema or reaction to a drug such as antibiotics.
2. Shun Sunburn
Summer is all about fun in the sun, but with that comes the risk of sunburn. “The risk of malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, really goes up if you have a significant number of sunburns in your first decade of life,” says Mancini.
Prevent it: At least 20 minutes before going outdoors, apply an ounce of sunblock with an SPF of at least 30 to your toddler’s skin, says Amy Guiot, MD, an adjunct instructor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Reapply according to the label’s instructions, as well as after your toddler goes swimming (even if the product is labeled “waterproof”). Put a hat with a wide rim and sunglasses on your tot while outdoors, and keep him in the shade between peak sun hours: 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You can also buy clothes with sun protection, such as the ones at sungrubbies.com.
Treat it: Avoiding sunburn is critical. But if you miss a spot with the sunscreen, the pain of first-degree sunburn (redness only) and second-degree sunburn (blistering) can be treated with a cool, moist compress, suggests Mancini. You can also apply a topical anesthetic lotion or calamine lotion, and administer children’s acetaminophen, according to the label’s instructions. If there’s blistering, apply a bland antibiotic ointment like Polysporin or Bacitracin to prevent infection, and cover the area with bandages, changing them daily, until it’s healed.
See your pediatrician if… you see large or deep blistering, which is evidence of a third-degree burn that needs immediate attention from a physician. A fever, nausea, vomiting or lethargy can point to sun poisoning.
3. Nix Ticks
Your tot is outdoors—and so are bugs. Among those that are more than just an annoyance: ticks. Lyme disease is spread by the bite of infected deer ticks. Left untreated, the illness can affect the joints, skin, heart and nervous system.
Prevent it: Before your tot goes outdoors, especially in tall grass or woodsy areas, dress her in a hat, long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks, and tie back long hair.
If your child is more than two months old, you can apply insect repellant with picaridin or a less than 10 percent concentration of DEET to exposed skin; don’t put it on hands or near the mouth or eyes. As soon as you get inside, “check your toddler from head to toe, and particularly where the scalp meets the hairline,” says Guiot. Bathe her, and shampoo and comb her hair.
Treat it: If you find a tick, grasp it with tweezers and pull it straight out to avoid leaving the head embedded in the skin, which can cause infection. Wash the area with soap and warm water. Watch your child for symptoms of Lyme; fl u-like symptoms typically occur 7 to 14 days after the bite, and the onset of rash has been reported from 3 to 32 days after the bite.
See your pediatrician if… your child experiences headache, fatigue, joint pain after a tick bite or an expanding, bull’s-eye– shaped rash. Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics, which are most effective when taken early in the course of the illness.
4. Bypass Bee Stings
When you least expect it, your toddler might step on, sit on or swat at a bee. The result? A sting (and a crying tot).
Prevent it: Since bees are attracted to sweet food and drink, keep your area clean when picnicking, and cap soda and juice bottles when not drinking from them. Avoid wearing perfumes or sweet-smelling lotions (or putting any on your little one).
Treat it: “The ampoule of the stinger has some venom in it, so if you grasp it with tweezers, you may inject more venom as you’re pulling the stinger out,” says Paul Horowitz, MD, owner of Discovery Pediatrics in Valencia, Calif. Instead, scrape the stinger out with a credit card and clean it with soap and water. For itching, give your tot an OTC medication with diphenhydramine, such as oral Benadryl. Cool compresses can reduce swelling.
If you know your child is allergic to bee stings, always carry an epi-pen, and inject him with it if he’s stung. Then call 911 and give him oral Benadryl according to label directions.
See your pediatrician if… your tot gets several stings at once, or if swelling extends across a major joint like the elbow or knee. Call 911 at signs of an allergic reaction: His lip, tongue or face swells; he has trouble breathing; or he gets hives. Symptoms may occur immediately or up to one hour after the sting.
5. Minimize Mosquito Bites
Mosquito bites can do more than hurt and itch: They can spread diseases like West Nile Virus.
Prevent it: Avoid going out at dusk, when mosquitoes are most prevalent. If your child is more than 2 months old, you can apply insect repellent with picaridin or a less than 10 percent concentration of DEET to her skin. If you’re camping, spray clothing, sleeping bags and tents with a permethrin spray, available at outdoor stores.
Treat it: Wash bites with soap and warm water. For itching, apply 1 percent hydrocortisone cream or give oral Benadryl.
See your pediatrician if… pus comes out of the bite, which can signal infection. Keep an eye on your toddler for symptoms of West Nile virus, which typically arise within two to six days: stiff neck, vomiting, fever and general achiness.
6. Preempt Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac
Not all pretty plants are nice: The poisonous oils in poison ivy, oak and sumac can cause a red, streaky rash of itchy blisters.
Prevent it: Before going out in a wooded area, dress your child in long pants and long sleeves and apply Ivy Block, an OTC lotion that creates a barrier between the skin and the allergenic oil. If your toddler touches one of these poisonous plants, immediately wash the area with soap and warm water, which may remove oils before they take effect. After he’s been in an area with poisonous plants, wash him and his clothing.
Treat it: If your tot has just a spot or two of poison ivy/oak/ sumac, bathe him thoroughly with soap to remove residual oils, and apply calamine lotion or 1 percent hydrocortisone cream to the rash to relieve itch and/or administer oral Benadryl. You can also try adding one cup of dry oatmeal to the bath water.
See your pediatrician if… your child has pain or a fever, which can indicate infection, or if the rash is widespread or on the face or diaper area.
New Hampshire–based writer Linda Formichelli and her husband are in the process of adopting a baby boy—whom she vows will always wear sunblock outdoors.
Bug bites and heat rashes can take the fun out of your toddler’s summer. Learn how to treat the 6 most common ailments.