Summer first aid guide: How to treat minor injuries

With outdoor fun comes the odd bump, sting or cut. Follow our first aid guide to know just what to do when your child gets a summer ouchy.

first aid guide
Photo: iStockphoto

Head Bump

First steps
1. Assess your tiny adventurer and the circumstances of the accident—did he fall onto carpet or concrete? Generally, there is usually little cause for concern if children fall less than their own height. Comfort is often the best medicine.

2. Apply a cold compress to the injury if there is swelling. A goose egg may take days, or even weeks, to disappear completely.

3. If the child’s head is cut, expect it to bleed profusely. Clean the wound and compress it with clean gauze, a clean towel or a T-shirt until the bleeding stops.

When to see a doctor
Go to the emergency room if he fell from a great height; he loses consciousness, vomits, has a really bad headache, is unexpectedly drowsy, has a seizure or his pupils seem different sizes; or you are otherwise worried. He may have a head injury that requires treatment.

Prevention
Make sure your child wears a helmet when biking, in-line skating and skateboarding. Ensure that playground equipment is age-appropriate and bunk beds have guardrails.

Splinter

First steps
1. Clean the affected area with soap or antiseptic.

2. Remove the object, which is likely a tiny piece of wood or glass. If the splinter protrudes, grasp it with sterile tweezers and slowly pull it out from the same direction it entered. If the object is fully embedded in the skin, lightly stroke the skin overtop the splinter with the tip of a needle or safety pin along its length until it’s exposed and you can grab it with tweezers. (Sterilize your equipment with an antiseptic or rubbing alcohol first.)

3. Wash the area again to remove dirt or bacteria, and apply antibiotic ointment.

When to see a doctor
If you cannot get the splinter out, wait a few days. It will likely come out on its own. If the area remains red or swollen, leaks pus or causes discomfort, it’s time to seek medical care.

Prevention
Make sure kids always wear shoes on the dock and beach.

Broken Glass/Cut

First steps
1. If the shard is small and sticks out of your little one’s skin, remove it with sterile tweezers.

2. If the wound bleeds after the glass is removed, stop the flow by pressing firmly on the cut with gauze, tissue or a clean cloth.

3. When the bleeding stops, wash the area thoroughly and apply an antibiotic ointment or cream. The wound will heal more quickly if covered with an adhesive bandage (a waterproof one is ideal if your child is going swimming).

When to see a doctor
If the cut is jagged, extremely deep or longer than an inch, or will not stop bleeding after 10 minutes’ pressure, it may require stitches, special glue or sticky strips. If the glass is deeply embedded, leave it where it is and go to the hospital.

Also, if you suspect some glass remains in the wound, it’s time to head in for an X-ray.

Prevention
Make sure your child wears proper foot protection, even in the water. If kids are helping out with heavy chores around the house or cottage, have them wear gloves.

Bee or Wasp Sting

First steps
1. Remove the stinger if it’s still embedded in your child’s skin. It may look like a small black dot. Use something flat and smooth, like the edge of a credit card, to gently scrape the stinger out of the skin. Do not squeeze the stinger with tweezers: Pressure could inject more venom into the wound.

2. Wash the wound with running water and apply something cold, such as a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a towel (never apply ice directly to the skin).

3. Once pain and swelling subside, apply antibiotic ointment or cream. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with pain. An antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can help treat the associated itch.

When to see a doctor
If your child’s tongue or lips start to swell or she has trouble swallowing, cannot breathe or has a tingling sensation around her mouth, she may be having an anaphylactic reaction. Give her an antihistamine and call 911, or take her to the nearest hospital immediately. Experts stress that an anaphylactic response is rare on a first sting. You cannot predict, however, whether children will have a severe reaction if they have never had a reaction in the past. If she has previously had any anaphylactic reactions to bee stings, be sure to pack an EpiPen in your first-aid kit.

Prevention
Make sure children wear shoes; many stings occur when they unwittingly step on bees or wasps. Avoid brightly coloured clothing and scented products if there are lots of bees around. And do not let kids drink sweet beverages directly from the can — bees love to fly into the can, and then sting unsuspecting kids right on the kisser.

Twisted Ankle

First steps
1. The key is RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation.

2. Elevate the affected foot and apply a cold compress for 20 minutes to reduce swelling. Take the compress off for 20 minutes, then reapply for another 20 minutes. Repeat as needed over the next two days until the swelling subsides.

3. Avoid putting weight on the ankle and wrap it in a Tensor bandage. An anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, can also help.

When to see a doctor
It’s time to visit a clinic or hospital if your child’s foot remains extremely sore after 24 hours, swelling persists or he’s having trouble bearing weight on the ankle the next day. Most twisted ankles are simply strained ligaments, but it is also possible he may have a small fracture, so an X-ray might be needed.

Prevention
Make sure kids wear supportive footwear while playing sports.

Sand in the Eye

First step
1. Tilt your beach bunny’s head to the side, in the direction of the affected eye, and flush away the sand with water from a bottle, hose or tap. Then encourage her to blink rapidly.

When to see a doctor
If the particles will not come out, they may be specks of glass. Head for a clinic or emergency room.

Prevention
Have kids wear sunglasses and warn them about the dangers of flinging sand.

Portable first-aid kit essentials

  • adhesive tape
  • antihistamine (Benadryl)
  • antiseptic (Betadine)
  • alcohol pads
  • antibiotic cream or ointment (Polysporin)
  • cortisone cream
  • cotton swabs
  • digital thermometer
  • EpiPen (if previously prescribed by a doctor)
  • first-aid guide
  • flashlight
  • gauze
  • insect repellent
  • instant cold packs
  • lighter (for sterilization)
  • needles or pins (for removing splinters)
  • pain relievers: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • safety pins
  • scissors
  • sunscreen (minimum SPF 15, with both UVA and UVB protection)
  • Tensor bandages
  • tweezers
  • waterproof bandages of various sizes

Our experts
Jeremy Friedman, head of paediatric medicine, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and author of Canada’s Toddler Care Book: A Complete Guide from 1 to 5 Years Old

Rick Caissie, a paramedic and national director of the injury prevention program for the Canadian Red Cross, Moncton, NB.

A version of this article was originally published in May 2010. 

Read more:
What to do when your baby her head
50 essential summer activities
How to keep your kids hydrated this summer

 

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