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Summer Ouch Guide

How to treat: Gently press the wound with a paper towel or a cloth to stop the bleeding. Wash it with plain soap and running water to flush out dirt and debris. Then apply antibacterial ointment (such as Neosporin or bacitracin) and cover the area with a bandage. Repeat the treatment with a fresh bandage at least twice a day  -- especially if the cut's on the hands, feet, or any other spot that can get dirty, which increases the possibility of infection.

Call the doctor if: bleeding persists or gets heavier after an hour, or if the wound is gaping and skin has been torn away  -- all signs your child may need stitches. Also call if the area becomes red or swollen (indicators that it's infected).

Bug Bites and Stings

How to treat: If a bee or wasp has zapped your child, make sure the insect's stinger doesn't remain in the skin. If it's still there, sweep it away with your hand or a credit card; leaving it in or tweezing it out could expose your little one to more of the bug's poison. Next, apply ice to ease swelling and itching, then put on hydrocortisone cream for extra itch relief. Within a week, the bite should be history. "Warn kids not to scratch or pick at it as it heals, which could cause a bacterial infection," says Roxanne Thompson, M.D., a pediatrician at the Ochsner Clinic, in New Orleans. Mosquitoes and ants don't leave stingers behind, but you can rely on the rest of the treatment above to reduce symptoms.

Seek emergency help if: your child has trouble breathing or develops a bodywide rash, which means she may be suffering a rare but potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to the bite.

Sprains and Strains

How to treat: To reduce swelling and speed healing, ice the area (15 minutes on, 45 minutes off; a bag of frozen peas will do nicely), elevate it, and wrap in an elastic compression bandage. Within a few days, pain should subside and the injury will start to heal (though it will typically sideline a kid from any active summer play for a few weeks).

Call the doctor if: the affected area doesn't improve after two or three days. However, while sprains (injured ligaments) and strains (injured muscles) cause painful swelling, neither tends to require a trip to the emergency room.

Minor Burns

How to treat: For first-degree burns  -- meaning that the outermost layer of skin has been scalded (but not broken) and there's redness, swelling, and pain  -- keep your child comfortable by cooling the area with a cold compress. Symptoms will usually subside within a few hours, though they can persist for several days. Never put home-remedy skin soothers (like butter) on a burn  -- they can actually slow healing. Instead, just clean the area with plain soap and water, apply an antibacterial ointment, and if the wound's small enough, cover it completely with a sterile, dry bandage.

Seek emergency help if: it's a second-degree burn  -- which reaches the layer of skin right below the surface, causing blisters to appear immediately  -- or a first-degree burn on the face, hand, eye area, or a joint. Also, make sure to get treatment right away if the burn spans several inches or more anywhere on the body.

Broken Bones

How to treat: If you think a bone is broken, immobilize the joint or limb immediately in a splint or sling  -- which you should always have on hand  -- to keep it stable. To ease pain, ice the area (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) and give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Seek emergency help: anytime you suspect a broken bone. Signs are extreme tenderness, inability to move the limb, and a deformed appearance. Waiting a few days can result in a permanent injury.

Heat Exhaustion

How to treat: If you notice signs of heat exhaustion, including dizziness, flushed skin, and clamminess, bring your child inside or into the shade, loosen her clothing, and give her plenty of water, the best fluid for rehydration. Call off outdoor play for the day; then, when she's ready to venture out again, encourage water and shade breaks every 15 minutes or so, to prevent another episode. Keep in mind that kids are at a greater risk of heat exhaustion than adults because their bodies have fewer sweat glands to help cool down.

Seek emergency help if: she becomes confused, has difficulty breathing, or develops a rapid pulse. Heat exhaustion may have progressed to heatstroke, which can damage body tissues and, if not treated right away, be fatal.

Poison Ivy

How to treat: If your child touches poison ivy, wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as you can to get rid of the poison and possibly reduce itching. If he does get an itchy, raised rash (sometimes accompanied by blisters), it's not contagious in itself, but anything that's come in contact with the plant can also cause a reaction  -- so it's important to wash those items too. (Think toys, clothes, and even shoelaces.)

Ease itching with a cold compress, hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or an oatmeal bath. The rash should clear up after a few weeks, but in the meantime, itching may be intense. To keep your child from making the area more painful if he scratches, cut his fingernails short.

Seek emergency help if: the rash is on the face or genitals  -- because skin in these areas can swell easily and be quite painful  -- or if it covers a large surface. Also get help if you notice any signs of a severe allergic reaction (which occurs rarely), such as breathing difficulty, confusion, or hives.


How to treat: Cool skin with a cold compress. Dab on hydrocortisone cream (such as Cortizone 10) or have your child soak in an oatmeal bath  -- either will soothe skin and relieve pain. "Avoid most creams and lotions because they tend to hold heat in the skin," says Andrea McCoy, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Temple University Children's Hospital, in Philadelphia. If pain persists, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help. Redness should peel and fade within a few weeks (don't let your child pick at the area  -- this can lead to infection or scarring).

Call the doctor if: the skin blisters  -- a sign that the sunburn is second-degree. (Don't pop them!) He may prescribe an antibiotic cream. And next time your child is out in the sun, remember: Any spot of skin not covered by clothing, a hat, or sunscreen  -- preferably with an SPF of 15 or higher  -- can burn. Also, skin covered by lightweight or gauzy material is still susceptible, so sunscreen underneath is a must.


How to treat: Numb the area with ice. Remove the splinter with a sterile needle or fine tweezers, carefully gripping its tip and squeezing and massaging the skin rather than digging around to force it out. This can be painful, so try to distract your child with conversation or a video. Once the splinter's gone, wash the wound thoroughly, apply an antibacterial ointment, and cover with a bandage.

Call the doctor if: you can't get the entire splinter out  -- it may cause an infection.

  Esther Crain writes about health and other issues for national magazines.