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Summer Guide: It’s Summertime and the Living Can Be Painful. Here’s What to Do

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Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer is full of fun, but all that outdoor time usually means a few ailments, especially for kids. Tricia Groff, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, discussed myths and must-dos for common summer conditions, from bug bites to swimmer’s ear.

Sunburn

Myth: Spraying sunblock on kids is enough.

Reality: “The No. 1 thing I see parents doing incorrectly to prevention sunburn is using spray sunblock, which sometimes results in uneven application,” Groff said. If you must use spray, put it in your hands before lathering up the little ones. In general, Groff said, it’s important to remember that using sunblock is a last line of defense for sun safety. Choosing shade and covering up with shirts and hats is essential, Groff said. “Even a regular t-shirt is much better than even a good application of sunblock.” When you are choosing a product, remember that an SPF greater than 50 isn’t giving you any greater protection. If your child does end up with a sunburn, treat the pain with Tylenol and keep the area moist with a cooling lotion, Groff said.

Ticks

Myth: When you see a tick you must act fast.

Reality: “Ticks have to be in place for 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so you have a lot of time to respond,” Groff said. Take time to calm your child and decide how best to remove the tick before you act, and, be sure to conduct nightly tick checks.

Groff recommends removing the tick by using tweezers to firmly pull the insect’s body. If pieces of the tick are left in the bite, don’t worry — but don’t dig because the risk of infection is greater than risk from leaving it in place, she said. Popular remedies like essential oils or dousing the tick in hand soap can be tried, with tweezers as a backup if they don’t work. Just don’t try to burn a tick off or use petroleum jelly, both of which are dangerous, she said.

If you remove a deer tick (which are quite small) or if the tick is engorged, keep a close eye for the bull’s-eye rash associated with Lyme. When in doubt, call your doctor. But there’s no need to panic. Treatments for Lyme disease work really well, she said. “They are excellent. In the worse-case scenario we have excellent, effective and safe treatments.”

Swimmer’s Ear

Myth: Using vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in the ear will treat the infection.

Reality: Swimmer’s ear is a common summer ailment. There are no home remedies, but it can be prevented, Groff said. The infection that causes pain occurs when the ear canal is moist for a long period of time. Dropping a 50/50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and vinegar into the ear is a good way to prevent swimmer’s ear for children who have had it before, or to clear an ear that feels blocked by water. However, in general, there’s no need to worry about water in the ear. “The misconception about fluid in the ear, even during a bath, is that water in the ear is terrible,” Groff said. “Water in the ear is perfectly fine if you have nice, healthy ears. Families shouldn’t worry about that, even for little babies.”

Bee Stings

Myth: A red, swollen spot is a sign of infection.

Reality: “It’s really uncommon to get an infection from a sting,” Groff said. However, it is perfectly normal for kids or adults to respond to any bug bites with a large red spot that might last days or weeks. “In most cases it’s your body’s normal response to a sting, but they can be very alarming in their appearance,” she said.

Allergic reactions to bee stings are rare, but it’s important to seek help immediately if you notice any changes to breathing, or swelling of the lips or tongue. “That would be reason to go in right away to ER,” Groff said.

Poison Ivy

Myth: There are tons of misconceptions about poison ivy, Groff said. Some of the most common include the belief that the weepy sores are contagious, that you can spread the infection by scratching it, and that steroids are necessary to treat the rash.

Reality: The only way to catch poison ivy is by touching the oils of the plant, Groff said. That might mean touching the plant itself, patting a dog that touched it or touching a blanket or other surface that has the oils on it. Because it takes hours or days for the rash to emerge it sometimes seems like the rash is spreading from the weeping sores, but that isn’t the case.

Unfortunately there isn’t much doctors can do for poison ivy, which can last for weeks.

“The treatment is really generally symptomatic treatment,” Groff said. She recommends ice packs and calamine lotion to cool and soothe skin, and Tylenol or ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation. If an infection is on the face, genitals or most of the body, it may be time to treat with steroids.

Although scratching the rash won’t cause it to spread, it can increase complications. “The risk of infection comes from scratching open sores,” Groff said. She recommends keeping kids’ nails trimmed short when they have the rash, and bandaging the rash area at night if they keep scratching.

A Bonus Myth, Busted

Groff said one of the most dangerous misconceptions she sees around summer health concerns bug spray.

“There is a major misconception that DEET (the most common active ingredient in bug repellents) isn’t safe and shouldn’t be used on children,” she said. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a spray that is 30 percent DEET for children older than 2 months. “A lot of families are using essential oils, organics, or herbal sprays. Those have not been shown to be very effective in preventing tick exposure,” she said. “DEET is safe, recommended, and will not cause harm to children. It should be used.”