Summer first aid tips for parents

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Summer provides ample opportunity for enjoying nature, playing outside and gazing at skies full of stars. But some of the side effects of all that outside time—scrapes, stings and other minor injuries—can take some of the fun out of summer. Here’s a quick refresher on some basic first aid every parent should know this time of year.

Insect stings and bites

When it comes to insects, staying vigilant and familiarizing yourself with a few preventative and comfort measures will help in the event of a sting or bite.

Mosquitoes and ticks

  • Use insect repellent and protective clothing.
  • Perform regular skin checks to look for any ticks or unusual bites.
  • If you do come across a tick on your child’s skin, follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for removal.
  • Avoid scratching and picking.
  • Review signs and symptoms of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile Virus and Chikungunya, which has recently been reported in the United States.

sad kidBee stings

  • Keep the area clean.
  • Apply cold compresses to help reduce swelling.
  • Apply wet baking soda or calamine lotion to the skin to alleviate discomfort.
  • If the stinger is still in the skin, gently brush the stinger and venom sac from the skin.
  • Keep in mind that 2 million people in the United States are allergic to bee stings, and some 3 percent of children will have an allergic reaction. Signs to look for include hives, excessive itching or swelling.
  • A more severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, includes airway swelling, difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. Anaphylaxis is a serious medical condition that requires emergency care. Call your pediatrician if your child appears to be having an allergic reaction, even a mild one. If your child reports difficulty swallowing or breathing, call 911 immediately.


Scraped knees and elbows

Abrasions (scrapes) from minor falls will send your child running to you in tears. In addition to a reassuring hug, you can take the following steps:

  • Use pressure to stop any bleeding.
  • Gently rinse the wound with clean water, gingerly cleaning around the wound with a mild soap.
  • Apply an antiseptic lotion.
  • Cover with a bandage or dry gauze.
  • Keep the area dry and change the dressing often.
  • Some signs that you need to contact your pediatrician include continuous bleeding for more than 5 to 10 minutes after applying pressure, a deep cut or one longer than an inch, or if symptoms of infection appear, including warmth, swelling, redness or drainage.

Head injury

Photo: Ben Grey

Bike helmets are a safety must for the prevention of bike-related head injuries. Even small children on little tricycles need head protection. Starting them early will help make wearing a helmet more of a habit than a chore. Helmets should meet the safety requirements of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If your child does hit their head from a fall, monitor them closely. Signs that your child may have a more serious head injury include:

  • increased sleepiness
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • behavioral changes

Notify your child’s physician immediately if you suspect a fall may have resulted in a head injury. Read this mom’s story of a seemingly typical childhood fall and how her fast action saved her son’s life.


Protect your child’s skin by practicing good sunburn prevention, including frequent application (at least every two hours) of a broad-spectrum sunscreen, with an SPF of at least 15 (and up to 50), avoiding direct exposure to midday sun and wearing protective clothing.

Sun safety

If your child does suffer from sunburn, you should:

  • Keep them well-hydrated to replace any lost fluids.
  • Apply cool water for comfort.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen according to your health care provider’s recommendation.
  • Limit your child’s sun exposure until the burn heals.
  • Avoid any medicated lotions until you’ve consulted your child’s physician.

As with any health concern, never hesitate to call your child’s health care provider. They can ask the right questions to get to the bottom of what’s going on, reassure you, instruct you on ways to care for your child at home, or have you bring your child in if it’s required.