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Expert advice for preventing common summer bummers

Summer vacation is the perfect time to get outside as a family. Long, lazy days by the pool, hikes on a nearby nature trail or bonfires under the stars – these are the moments that make summer memorable. But happy memories can turn bad quickly without a few preventative measures. 

Dr. Jessica Smith, a Mercy Kids pediatrician in practice at Mercy Clinic Pediatrics Chesterfield, offered advice on preventing three common summer bummers: sunburn, bug bites and poison ivy. 

baby getting sprayed with bug spray stock
(Source: Adobe Stock)


Likely, you’re already applying sunscreen. But are you doing it right? 

One of the most common mistakes people make is not using enough product. According to Smith, the same rules apply whether you’re using spray or lotion; you have to apply a thick coating, rub it in well and give it time to work. The standard rule is 1 ounce of lotion per child; 2 ounces per adult. A single shot glass holds between 1 and 1.5 ounces.  

“It will absorb back into your skin. That’s one of the beauties of waiting 10, 15, 20 minutes before you get into (water), the sunscreen will have absorbed and create a layer of protection on your skin,” Smith said. 

The same goes for sunscreen sprays. While convenient, they are harder to measure and people often forget to rub the product into the skin and wait for it to take effect. 

Reapplying is also crucial to maintaining optimal protection from searing UV rays. 

“A good rule of thumb is every 45 minutes, everyone needs to get out of the water, have a rest, reapply their sunscreen and wait 10 to 15 minutes before returning to the water,” Smith said. “Keep some by your backdoor or your front door and make it part of your routine that 10 or 15 minutes before you leave you put sunscreen on exposed areas.”

Smith confirmed that there isn’t a lot of difference in efficacy between a 15, 30 or 50 SPF sunscreen, but most pediatricians recommend 30 SPF or higher for kids. 

“Sunscreen is approved for kids 6 months and up,” Smith said. “For really little babies, keeping them out of the direct sunlight and summer heat is the best approach.”

Hats, she said, provide good sun protection for everyone. If a child, or adult, does get sunburned, Smith said aloe is among the best remedies. 

Ticks & Mosquitoes

The idea of having a blood-sucking bug latch on to your child or yourself is unnerving; same goes for mosquitoes – both of which carry diseases that can have serious complications. 

Physical barriers such as light colored clothing with long sleeves and pant legs tucked into socks that rise above your ankles can be effective but in the heat of summer not very practical. So Smith recommends using an insect repellent that contains DEET. 

“DEET is safe. It’s safe down to the age of 2 months. It’s been studied pretty intensively, even in pregnant women, and really the only thing that would be a problem is if they ingest it,” Smith said. “So obviously if you’re applying in on a smaller child, you wouldn’t want to apply it to their hands because they might put their hands in their mouths.”

If a tick does latch on, carefully remove it with tweezers, making sure the insect’s head is fully removed.

Poison Ivy & Rashes

“Keeping a good intact skin barrier is going to help reduce the likelihood of rashes,” Smith said. That can come from something as simple as a skin lotion or sunscreen. 

“One thing I do think that is important that everyone should know is that the oil that causes the poison ivy rash stays on your clothes. So if mom or dad is working to remove poison ivy and they have on gloves, that oil is going to stay on those gloves. If your kiddos come and pick up those gloves later they could still get the poison ivy rash from that, so it’s important to remember that.”

Smith advised that if you know your child, or you, have been in the vicinity of poison ivy, washing or showering as soon as possible after exposure and changing and washing exposed clothes is a wise idea. 

“Hydrocortisone 1% cream is great for treating poison ivy and it can be used on a child as young as 2 months,” Smith said. “But if the rash is on the child’s face or if it is on a large area of their body, they really should be seen by their doctor because they may need oral steroids to treat that.

“The other thing about poison ivy rashes is that it can last one to three weeks, so if it’s not gone in a couple of days, don’t panic,” Smith said. 

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