Bee Stings, Sunburns & Heatstroke, Oh My!

Taking seasonal precautions for your baby.

Summer is a time for enjoying good weather and having fun together as a family. From Fourth of July parades to picnics at the beach, there are many opportunities for entertainment and delicious eats under the sun. Unfortunately, there are just as many opportunities for outdoor injuries. Yet, while summer-related mishaps happen to everyone, they need not result in trips to the doctor or ER.

How do you prevent injuries to your baby during the blissful summer months? For starters, in the summer and early fall, resist taking your baby to areas that are likely buzzing with bee activity, such as orchards in bloom, flower-filled gardens and places near public garbage cans. This limits encounters with bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, which generally steer clear of people. Remember, if a bee or wasp flies near you or your baby, don’t swat at the insect. Swatting excites the defensive instincts of bees and wasps. Just be still or calmly move away. If your baby is stung, there is no cause to worry unless an allergic reaction develops. Though bee stings are painful for children, they are a common occurrence.

Here is how you proceed if an insect stings your child: If a bee is responsible for the sting, you may be able to see the stinger embedded in the skin. Use your fingernail or the edge of a credit card to gently scrape away the stinger. Do not pull at the stinger with your fingers or tweezers; this may push more venom into the bloodstream. Although there are debates about the best means of taking out a stinger, there is no dispute that a stinger should be removed immediately.

Hornets, wasps and yellow jackets can sting multiple times and do not leave behind a stinger. In all cases, wash the swollen area with soap and water and apply a cool cloth, an ice pack or calamine lotion to reduce pain and further swelling. Pain and swelling should subside after a few hours. Do not apply heat.

A more common source of injury is the sun. Because a baby’s skin is thinner and much more sensitive than an adult’s, a sunburn can be a serious condition in infants and very young children. But, it also can be easily prevented. In hot climates or areas of bright sun, make sure your baby’s skin, regardless of skin tone, is covered in light clothing and protective garments like long-sleeve shirts, pants and hats with wide brims. For skin not covered by clothing, apply a baby-safe, waterproof sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Use sunscreen sparingly on the face and hands to keep your baby from ingesting sunscreen. Consult with your pediatrician regarding sunscreens that are safe for babies younger than 6 months old.

In addition to sunburns, sunny days also increase the risk for heat-related illnesses in babies and young children. If it seems uncomfortably hot to you, then you’ll need to take every possible precaution to prevent a baby from becoming overheated. Dehydration, decreased intake of fluids, exertion or prolonged exposure to the sun can all cause heatstroke, which is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated.

Keep babies and young children out of direct, strong sun and ensure that rooms and cars are well-ventilated and cool. And as it’s difficult to know that young babies are thirsty until they show signs of dehydration, give them lots of extra fluids in hot weather. A good tip is to plan ahead and bring Pedialyte with you if your infant will be exposed to prolonged heat.

Heatstroke, the most severe heat illness, is life-threatening. Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Elevated body temperature.
  • No visible sweat.
  • Dehydration (less urination, dark urine).
  • Refusal to drink or eat.
  • Dry eyes and mouth.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Lethargy or flaccid paralysis (a “floppy” appearance).
  • Confusion or uncharacteristic irritability.
  • Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on a baby’s head).
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of consciousness.

If you are concerned that your baby might be suffering from a heat-related problem or might be seriously dehydrated, contact your doctor immediately and/or head to the emergency room.

Also don’t forget about the dangers involved with water play. The light reflecting on a cool ocean or warm swimming pool is especially alluring in the summer, and babies and young children are often drawn to water out of simple curiosity. But water is of course a deadly danger for babies. Remember, a baby can drown in as little as two inches of water. For additional outdoor safety in the summertime, especially concerning beach and pool play, check out “Swimming Safety,” this issue’s article on protecting children in and around the water.