From the June 2015 issue

Top Reasons Kids End Up in the ER

While enjoying the summer season, take precautions to avoid these top injuries/illnesses typically seen in the emergency room. Dr. Prashant Mahajan of Children's Hospital of Michigan offers insight.

The summer months are here, and the warmer weather we’ve been waiting for has finally come to stay (for a while, at least). With that, families are heading outside to explore and play together.

While it’s a great season for family fun, it’s also prime time for injuries. With the changing of the weather, the emergency room staff at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit prepares for a host of injuries not usually seen during the winter months, explains Dr. Prashant Mahajan, division chief and research director of pediatric emergency medicine.

Here, for National Safety Month, he highlights the top summer injuries and offers safety advice so your child creates memories of hiking, biking, swimming and playing this summer – without the pain.

Injuries ramping up

Of all the injuries and illnesses Mahajan treats in Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s emergency department, many of the summer injuries among children fall into some specific categories.

Falls are a big one. “Falls from heights, running on a sidewalk, falling down,” Mahajan lists. “Falls from bikes or while rollerblading – those are other very common reasons for minor and sometimes serious injuries.”

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Mahajan also sees a lot of motor vehicle-related injuries, whether it’s a child who had been a passenger in the car or was struck by a vehicle. “It could be a car versus a cyclist,” he notes.

Outside of that spectrum of injuries, “We definitely see other injuries which are related to heat,” he adds. “Unfortunately, you often see highlighted in the newspaper and the media that a child was left in the car.” Children, especially infants, should never be left in a car alone, even for a few minutes. Others include kids who are involved in sporting activities outside in the heat. “They end up getting dehydrated and are at risk for heat related issues such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” he says.

Another grouping of ER visits are related to water activities. Drowning, unfortunately, is not uncommon and they occasionally see children who have been involved in boating or Jet Skiing-related injuries. Mahajan also treats waterborne illnesses, caused by unclean water at the beach or in a pool, such as an upset stomach or diarrhea.

In the summer, bites and stings make the list, too, whether they’re mosquito or bee stings. Next up, injuries caused by environmental triggers, like asthma and wheezing, allergies – and even contact-illnesses such as poison ivy.

Playing it safe

What can parents do to ensure their child stays safe and out of the emergency room this summer?

Safety gear is a must. “Insist they wear safety equipment,” says Mahajan. On bikes, they should be wearing helmets, and while rollerblading, they should wear the appropriate padding and guards. With organized sports, kids may need safety equipment like dental guards.

Be prepared for the water. Avoid drowning incidents by putting kids in life jackets, and by teaching kids “good water skills,” says Mahajan. Parents might also consider learning CPR just in case.

Beat the heat. If playing outside, clothing should be loose-fitting and light in color, he suggests. Kids should be wearing at least an SPF 15 sunblock, something to protect from UVA and UVB rays. And kids need to stay well hydrated, he adds.

Don’t push it. If your child badly injures himself playing a sport, make sure he is adequately healed before they get back in the game to avoid further injury.

Bye-bye, bugs. Avoid nasty bites and stings by using a bug repellent. Use any certified bug repellent (something natural or organic if you’re concerned about chemicals), and be mindful of misuse and overuse.

Keep an eye out. Mahajan recommends mom and dad “keep a heightened level of awareness” – and this especially applies to younger kids, who are more prone to some of these accidents. Keep your eyes on them and be around. “Be ready to prevent this.”

When to act

Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine when your child needs emergency attention. Kids who look well and are playing after an injury may mean they’re OK – “however, that is very vague and often depends on the circumstances,” Mahajan notes.

If you notice your child isn’t “acting their normal self,” that is an indicator, along with uncontrollable bleeding or deformed limbs due to injury, he says. If your child sustained a head injury due to a fall from a height greater than 3 feet, or due to a projectile or blunt object, for example, they should be seen in the ER.

However, because it’s not always easy to pinpoint, Mahajan suggests this: “Any time the parent is uncomfortable and unable to access the primary care provider (pediatrician), they can always call the (emergency department) or bring the child in, as they know the child the best.”

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