Avoid the Emergency Room this Summer

As summer approaches, children spend more and more time outdoors — swimming, biking, running, skateboarding and playing all kinds of games. Unfortunately, having fun outside can result in injuries that require immediate medical treatment. Local emergency officials agree that many of these injuries can be avoided if parents use common sense and increase their safety awareness during the summer months.

Danger on Wheels

Wheels pose the biggest threat to children during the summer months, indirectly or directly causing the majority of all emergency room visits. These wheels can be on skateboards, bikes, scooters and even cars. Wearing helmets and padding, using seatbelts and children’s safety seats and practicing common sense can reduce or eliminate many wheel-related injuries.

“Anything with wheels can be extremely dangerous in the summer and result in numerous accidents,” says Debbi Hillman, education specialist at WakeMed in Raleigh. “Children and parents need to know that head-related injuries do not heal up like a broken arm or leg.”

The statistics actually can be staggering: In 2001, more than 278,800 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries, according to the National Safe Kids Organization. During the same year, 85,800 unpowered scooter-related injuries, 56,300 skateboard injuries, 42,800 inline skating accidents and 28,600 all-terrain vehicle injuries also were treated in emergency rooms.

Hillman shares her safety messages with elementary school students across Wake County. Her program focuses on eight risk areas, with bike safety topping the list. In addition to wearing a helmet that fits properly, she stresses the need to ride with traffic, learn traffic hand signals and obey the rules of the road.

Wearing a helmet is the number one summer safety precaution stressed by Dr. Jim Larson, clinical medical director of the emergency medical department at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. According to reports, bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent.

In North Carolina, bike riders under age 16 are required to wear helmets. Locally, the cities of Cary, Carrboro and Chapel Hill have adopted the same law. “A helmet that actually works and is fitted properly can greatly reduce the number of visits to an emergency room in the summer,” Larson says. A helmet should sit on top of the child’s head in a level position, and it should not rock forward and back or side to side. The helmet straps must always be buckled but not too tightly. Ensure proper bike fit by bringing the child along when shopping for a bike.

Wearing car seatbelts and using properly installed child safety seats also reduce the risk of wheel-related injuries. Larson encourages parents to pull on the safety seat to make sure it is secure after it is buckled into the car. According to state law, children under the age of 5 and weighing less than 40 pounds must be properly secured in a child car seat.

Splash Safely

Accidents around or in the water are the second leading cause of summer emergency room visits, according to local medical experts.

“Frequently children are not being closely watched, and they slip out of the house and go the pool or lake,” says Jodie Turner, clinical manager of a pediatric floor at Rex Hospital in Raleigh. “This often can result in drowning or serious accidents in the water.”

Water sports such as skiing, diving and swimming also can lead to accidents if proper care is not taken. In 2001, nearly 4,700 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional drowning-related incidents, according to the National Safe Kids Organization. The importance of wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) while boating is stressed in the programs taught by WakeMed’s Hillman. It is estimated that 85 percent of boating-related drownings could have been prevented if the victim had been wearing a flotation device. Just having the device in the boat is not the same as actually wearing it, Hillman stresses.

“A PFD that fits properly also is extremely important,” she says. “The size of the PFD is determined by the body weight of the individual. If the flotation device is not large enough, it will not keep the person afloat.” Other safety tips focus on not diving into shallow water, not running at the pool and not jumping into a lake without first testing the safety of the water.

Burns, Bumps and Bruises

Other emergency room visits during the summer often are related to the heat. Severe sunburn and other overexposure to the elements are treated. Lacerations, bumps and bruises also are seen in emergency rooms more frequently in the summer. “Spring fever gets everyone outside and triggers more accidents,” says Turner of Rex Hospital. “A whole new list of safety rules needs to be applied during the summer.”