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Protect children from common summer illnesses

As summer rolls around again, it’s time for children to hit the beach and enjoy the sunny weather or plunge into swimming pools to cool off. To avoid hassles that could ruin a vacation, kids must be protected from health hazards posed by high temperatures and contaminated pool water.

“Too much sun exposure represents a real threat of sunburn,” says Gamal Abdel Nasser, a professor and head of pediatrics at the National Center for Social and Criminological Research.

He advises parents to keep their children in shaded areas between 10am and 3pm, when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Using a sunscreen of at least SPF30 is a must, but make sure it provides protection against both UVB and UVA rays. While UVB rays are responsible for causing premature skin aging, UVB rays are more intense and can increase the risk of sunburn and skin cancer.

Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours during daylight. Although UV rays present less of a threat after 3pm, they can still reach your skin, Abdel Nasser explains.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face, ears and neck. If your child wears a bucket or baseball hat, remember to apply sunscreen to the back of his/her neck.

“Most people are unaware that exposing the back of the neck to the sun for a long time is a major cause of sunstroke,” Abdel Nasser says.

If your child exhibits severe symptoms of sunstroke, such as loss of consciousness, a bad headache or vomiting, Abdel Nasser recommends consulting a doctor immediately. In the most serious cases, sunstroke may be fatal.  

The pool is one of summer’s joys, but there are a number of precautions parents should follow to avoid invisible dangers.

If pools are not well maintained and cleaned, contaminated water can transfer infectious diseases. Filtration, disinfection and maintaining proper levels of chlorine and pH are essential for eliminating pollutants and pathogens.

Swimming in polluted water can cause inner-ear pain – known as swimmer’s ear or external otitis – due to harmful bacteria and fungus that enter the ear canal, says Wafaa Qandil, a professor of pediatrics. She adds that children who participate in hours of swimming activities are vulnerable to ear blockage. Water gets stuck inside and can lead to pain if bacteria accumulate.

Qandil advises children to dry their ears carefully with a clean, soft towel after swimming and to use earplugs for protection. If ears remain blocked for a long time, she warns against scratching or using an object to clean them, and recommends seeing a doctor for a prescription.

“Excessive exposure to chlorinated water may get sensitive skin irritated, even if the pool is properly maintained,” says Abdel Nasser.
He says that too much chlorine can cause chemical dermatitis, so children should shower with anti-bacterial soap immediately after swimming. If you show symptoms of a chlorine rash, apply anti-itch lotion and stay away from pools until redness is relieved, he adds.

Qandil also says that contaminated water is one of the main causes of diarrhea among children, especially during the summer. According to a UNICEF report, “About 4 billion cases of diarrhea per year cause 1.8 million deaths, over 90 percent of them (1.6 million) among children under five.”

Diarrhea is accompanied by dehydration. Drinking plenty of water, sports drinks or fresh juices, which contain electrolytes, is recommended to replace lost fluids and minerals, Qandil says.

At this point, you may be envisioning your child’s favorite summer hang-outs as disease-filled pools of contaminated water, but not to worry. Qandil says if parents instruct children to follow good hygiene, the risk of water-borne diseases is minimized considerably.

“Choose a swimming pool that has a reputation for being well sanitized and never swallow pool water,” she says. “Take a shower before swimming to wash off any moisturizer or oils and never let kids swim if they are suffering from diarrhea, in order to keep the pool clean and sanitary for others as well.”

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