When summer hits, it’s time for kids to enjoy the outdoors.
Swimming in pools. Explore the forest. Camping. Playing on the beach. Run on the playground.
And that’s exactly what they should, although it also brings with it the possibility of insect bites, scrapes and rashes, according to Angela Oostema, MD, a primary care physician with the Spectrum Health Medical Group.
The most common summer skin problems? Sunburn, poison ivy rash, insect bites and infected wounds.
“It’s important for parents to know that there are many conditions that will go away on their own,” said Dr. Oostema. “But they also shouldn’t downplay certain conditions, such as something that persists or worsens, something that gets bigger or causes whole-body symptoms, so it’s important to call your doctor.”
Here are the tips from Dr. Oostema to prevent and treat uncomfortable skin problems.
Parents today have many resources to help prevent sunburn in children, and Dr. Oostema recommends taking advantage of this. She reminds parents that the risk of skin cancer increases over time with repeated sun exposure.
“It’s important to have a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, but even more is better,” she said. “One thing that can help parents is to use long-sleeved rash guards and wide-brimmed hats for children, as they usually have a UPF of 50.
“The lighter the child’s complexion, the greater the risk of sunburn. And we worry about skin cancer along the way.”
SPF is the rating used for sunscreen and UPF is the rating used for clothing.
Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin and are associated with skin aging, while UVB rays are the cause of sunburn.
Also important: Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, and even more often if the child is sweating or swimming, said Dr. Oostema.
She admits it can be challenging to convince teens to sunbathe safely. An argument that might help: Tell teens that the right precautions can help prevent premature wrinkles.
“I don’t know anyone who wants it,” she said.
If your child gets sunburnt, severe cases can cause blistering, she said. Care for these wounds by soothing them as much as possible with over-the-counter products that cool or numb the skin.
Some kids are also prone to summer heat rash, said Dr. Oostema. Unlike a sunburn, this happens when sweat glands become clogged and moisture cannot escape. It looks like small pink or red bumps and is often found on covered areas where the skin creases, such as elbows, armpits, knees or thighs.
In fact, athletic-style wicking fabrics can contribute to the problem as they impede airflow. She recommends cotton clothes to keep kids as cool as possible, then rinse them off in the shower or bath after being in the heat.
Poison Ivy, Poison Oak
Avoiding poison ivy or poison oak rashes starts with teaching children to identify the plants at an early age, said Dr. Oostema.
Other rules may help:
- Stay on the marked trails.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the woods.
- Wash off if you go in from places where you may have rubbed against plants.
Sometimes skin irritation occurs and this can be very uncomfortable for children. Parents can treat mild cases at home with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream.
However, if your child feels extremely uncomfortable, or if the rash doesn’t improve — or if you see signs of infection — it’s time to call your doctor, said Dr. Oostema.
Your child may need oral steroids or prescription topical ointments to treat the rash.
“Our skin is a wonderful protective barrier for our bodies, but if we get chafed knees or a cut, the outside environment can come into contact with our bodies,” said Dr. Oostema.
Most children heal just fine if they have a cut or scrape, but sometimes they can develop an infection.
First check that there is no foreign material in the wound. Then wash it and treat it with an antibacterial ointment. Bacitracin is Dr. Oostema.
Finally, check the wound.
“It is especially with heat and sweat that bacteria can multiply,” she said. “Look for signs of skin infection.”
This includes redness, warmth, tenderness, and pus or drainage. She also advises parents to mark the outline of the red area with a pen to see if it gets worse or improves.
If in doubt, call the doctor.
bees. wasps. mosquitoes. sign. Spiders.
Time outdoors means your child is at risk of being bitten or stung — and they can end up with a sore or itchy fringe.
If your child is in pain at the time of the bite, it is likely some stinging insect.
dr. Oostema recommends first making sure that no stinger remains in the skin. Then apply a cool compress. Wash the area and apply calamine lotion or Benadryl topical.
Also watch for signs of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include a rash or hives, swelling of the airways, or difficulty breathing. dr. Oostema said lesser-known symptoms include abdominal pain and nausea.
“Parents know their child and can tell when something is wrong,” she said. “If you suspect an anaphylactic reaction, act quickly and get help immediately.”
If the reaction remains localized around the bite, watch for signs of infection.
“I don’t want parents ever to feel like they are overreacting in any way with a large amount of redness or inflammation,” she said.
Tick bites present an entirely different challenge: the threat of Lyme disease.
First, Dr. Oostema encourages parents to examine pictures of ticks and know the difference between deer ticks – which can spread Lyme disease – and dog ticks or other ticks.
Second, take preventative measures, such as having all of your family members wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the woods. Third, check yourself, your children and your pets when you enter.
If you find a tick on the skin, use tweezers to remove it.
“Don’t apply too much pressure,” she said. “You want to squeeze the tick as little as possible.”
Lift the tick and remove it.
“If they are not attached for more than 36 hours, there is less chance of Lyme disease,” she said.
Call your doctor if you think the tick has been stuck for more than a day or two, as the doctor may choose to prescribe antibiotics as a precaution. It should be done within 72 hours of removing the tick, said Dr Oostema.
If you notice the tell-tale target rash, call your doctor right away, she said.
Before going outside in the summer, make sure you’re armed with bug spray that contains DEET, said Dr. Oostema. Sprays containing DEET are safe for children and offer the broadest protection against ticks and insects.
Get your kids outside to enjoy the summer, but take smart precautions to protect their skin. And if in doubt, call your doctor, said Dr. Oostema.
“Parents should always remember that they can call us at any time. We love our families and we are always there for them.”