May 28, 2024

Your Ultimate Summer Toolkit: Keep Kids Healthy and Out of the Doctor's Office!

School's out, and summer is kicking into high gear! Whether your kids are lounging at home, off to camp, or your family is jet-setting on an adventure, the summer whirlwind has arrived. To steer you through the sunny chaos, I’ve pieced together the ultimate summer survival toolkit to keep your kids healthy and away from the doctor's office—leaving more room for fun!

What treasures are tucked inside this ultimate summer survival toolkit? Nothing but the best!

First off, I’ve rounded up the top 5 reasons pediatricians get those frantic summer calls. As a parent, getting a heads-up on these will arm you with the know-how to spot trouble early, along with my pro tips for preventative measures that’ll keep those summer bummers at bay.
But wait, there’s more! I’ve also packed this toolkit with my absolute must-haves for your summer bag. These essentials are game-changers, ensuring your kids stay healthy and happy, while you maintain your cool through the summer saga.
So, pop on those shades, slide into your flip-flops, and let’s kick off a summer that’s all about stress-free fun and sun!

Top 5 Reasons Parents Dial Their Pediatrician All Summer Long

#1 Insect Bites/Stings

As the temperatures rise, I’ve been getting more calls about insect bites at my practice. Parents are particularly anxious about distinguishing between spider bites, ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects to figure out how worried they should be. Another common concern I hear is about the localized reactions these bites can cause—significant redness and swelling at the bite site, which often sparks fears of allergic reactions.

As a pediatrician and fellow parent, I want you to know that insect bites are an inevitable part of summer and usually not a cause for worry. It's often hard to figure out exactly what caused a bite, and the localized reaction is typically due to venom, not an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions are much rarer and tend to show up with more widespread symptoms. Some stinging insects more likely to cause allergic reactions include bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants. If your child develops a severe allergic reaction or is known to be allergic, seek immediate medical attention and consider carrying an Epinephrine kit, ensuring it is up to date and not expired.

> Preparation and Prevention! 

I could dedicate an entire blog post to this topic, but I’ll leave it here for now. For more detailed information and additional prevention tips, check out this article on "Choosing an Insect Repellent for Your Child".

> Dr. Lastra's must-have Summer Bag Essentials for Bug-Free Fun!

Pro Tip: I love using sprays for clothing and strollers, but when it comes to applying repellent on the skin, wipes are my lifesaver. They're perfect for wrangling squirmy kids, making it a breeze to apply without the worry of spraying repellent into their eyes. Plus, wipes are travel-friendly, bypass liquid restrictions, and you don’t have to worry about bottles breaking or fluids spilling. Trust me, wipes make the whole process easier, safer, and more convenient!

Important Safety Precaution: When it comes to DEET-containing products, more DEET doesn't always mean better protection. As a parent, I follow the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice, which recommends keeping DEET concentrations at 30% or below for kids. Higher concentrations just mean the protection lasts longer, not that it's more effective. I like the 30% options because they offer a good balance—you don't have to reapply them too often, and they stay within the recommended safety limits for children.

The bite happened, now what???

  • My first go-to products is the Bug Bite Thing suction tool, perfect for minimizing those pesky localized reactions. It's most effective when used within minutes of the bite, but from personal experience and patient anecdotes, it can still provide relief hours or even days after a bite.
  • Stop the itch! My go-to barrier cream for almost all skin issues is Pinxav. It's fantastic for relieving itchiness and serves as an all-in-one for anything skin-related, so you don’t have to carry multiple creams. If you need extra relief, you can also pair it with over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream.
  • As a pediatrician mom, I always keep Mupirocin on hand. This prescription-only topical antibiotic is great for use on open wounds or when there's a concern that an infection might be developing. I don't recommend using any over-the-counter options like triple antibiotic ointment because they contain ingredients that are more likely to cause skin irritation, rashes, and allergic reactions.
  • If you know your child is allergic, ensure that your Epipen kit is current and not expired!

Reach out to your pediatrician if you need to stock up on the recommended prescription medications, if your child shows signs of an allergic reaction, or if you suspect an infection is developing.

#2 Swimmer's Ears

One of the top summer activities is getting in the water! Whether it’s a public or personal pool, the beach, or even cooling off with baths at home, more water exposure means a higher chance of water getting trapped in the ear, leading to swimmer's ear. I often hear from parents when their child complains of ear pain, worried it might be an ear infection. Here's how you can tell the difference: swimmer's ear pain usually gets worse when you move the ear, especially when pressing down on the pinna (that's the fancy term for the visible part of the outer ear). Also, swimmer's ear usually doesn’t come with cold symptoms.

> Preparation and Prevention! 

This is one of my favorite topics to discuss with parents because the prevention methods work so well! You can use over-the-counter ear drops to prevent swimmer's ear, or you can make your own solution at home. My recommended recipe is to mix equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol, and then use 3-5 drops of this mixture in the ear canal.

Pro Tip: Use these drops both before and after swimming, every time! 

Important Safety Precaution: If your child has ear tubes, do not use these preventative drops. Instead, dry the ear with a towel after swimming and use a hair dryer on a low, cool setting to dry the ear canal.

> Dr. Lastra's must-have Summer Bag Essentials for Pain-Free Ears!
  • SwimSeal Ear Drops are a great option because they don’t contain alcohol, making them less irritating. Plus, they come pre-made in a handy container, which can be a real lifesaver for busy parents compared to mixing a solution at home.
  • Ear plugs are fantastic—if you can actually get your child to keep them in! Personally, I haven't had much luck with that yet.
  • Blow drying the ear canal when you get home can provide an extra layer of protection, but I often forget to do this. It requires coordination and remembering to do it once you're home, and it’s easy to overlook, especially after some time has passed since being at the pool.

If you suspect your child has developed swimmers ears, reach out to your pediatrician.

#3 Skin Infections

Skin issues are a year-round challenge, but come summer, I see a lot of impetigo. This pesky, highly contagious bacterial skin infection causes blisters that ooze fluid and crust over. It's often a result of water exposure, sweaty sports, and activities that increase skin friction and contact, especially with unsanitized equipment. Sharing items like makeup brushes during dance recitals or after strep infections can also spread impetigo.

I want to give parents a heads-up about impetigo because it can easily be mistaken for a simple rash or irritation. Parents often start applying barrier cream without consulting their pediatrician, only to notice the rash spreading or worsening. The key sign to look for is a rash with honey-crust lesions. If you catch it early, it can be easily treated with a topical antibiotic.

> Preparation and Prevention! 

The best way to prevent impetigo is through good hygiene, especially during summer when kids are more active and exposed to potential infections. Encourage daily showers or baths, particularly after activities like swimming or sports. Teach your kids to wash their hands with soap and water regularly, especially before eating, after using the bathroom, and after playing outside.

Regularly clean and sanitize sports equipment and other gear that contacts the skin. Discourage sharing personal items like towels, clothing, and makeup brushes to prevent bacteria transfer. Clean any cuts or scrapes immediately with soap and water, and cover them with a clean bandage. Keep nails trimmed and clean to prevent bacteria buildup and reduce scratching risks.

Make sure your kids change out of sweaty clothes promptly and wear clean, dry clothing. Emphasize the importance of these hygiene practices to keep them healthy and significantly reduce the risk of impetigo and other infections during the summer months.

> Dr. Lastra's must-have Summer Bag Essentials for Preventing Skin Infections!
  • Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes are a year-round necessity with kids. I use Purell Travel Size hand sanitizer, which I keep attached to the stroller and bag. I also love Babyganics Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizing Wipes.
  • Band-aids are essential for minor wounds and cuts after washing with soap and water. We always choose ones with whatever cartoon the kids are currently into.
  • Spare clothing for when the kids get wet or dirty.
  • As a pediatrician mom, I always keep Mupirocin on hand. This prescription-only topical antibiotic is great for use on open wounds or when there's a concern that an infection might be developing. I don't recommend using any over-the-counter options like triple antibiotic ointment because they contain ingredients that are more likely to cause skin irritation, rashes, and allergic reactions.

If you suspect your child has a skin infection, reach out to your pediatrician.

#4 Sun Burns

Common myths about the sun include beliefs such as babies younger than 6 months can't wear sunscreen, you can't get sunburned on a cloudy day, people with darker skin don't burn or need sunscreen, and that you only need to apply sunscreen once a day. As you can imagine, these misconceptions put sunburns in my top five concerns.

Kids are often out in the sun and heat for longer periods during the summer, whether they’re at the pool, outdoor camps, or theme parks. This increased exposure makes it crucial to debunk these myths and practice proper sun safety. Here’s the reality:

  1. Babies and Sunscreen: While it's best to keep babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight, if sun exposure is unavoidable, small amounts of sunscreen can be applied to limited areas of the skin.
  2. Cloudy Days: Up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate clouds, so it's important to use sunscreen even on overcast days.
  3. Darker Skin: People with darker skin can still suffer from sun damage and skin cancer, so they also need sunscreen.
  4. Reapplication: Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently if swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.

> Preparation and Prevention! 

Preventing sunburns is all about a mix of smart strategies. Make sure to wear protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats, and look for clothing with UPF ratings for extra protection. Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher generously and reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating. Stay hydrated, seek shade during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and be mindful of reflective surfaces like water and sand. Educate your family about the importance of these sun-safe habits to keep everyone's skin healthy and protected.

Pro Tip: Choose mineral sunscreens over chemical-based ones, as they are less irritating for those with sensitive skin and better for babies and children. Additionally, there is some controversy around the ingredients in chemical sunscreens. Recent studies have found that chemical sunscreen ingredients can be absorbed into the bloodstream at significant levels—even after just one use—and can remain in the blood for extended periods. However, it’s important to note that absorption into the bloodstream doesn’t necessarily mean these ingredients are unsafe or harmful, and the Food and Drug Administration still recommends using chemical sunscreens. Conversely, studies have not found that nanoparticles in mineral sunscreens are absorbed into the blood in a significant way.

> Dr. Lastra's must-have Summer Bag Essentials for Preventing Sun Burns!
  • When my kids are out in the sun, they're fully geared up with baby sunglasses and toddler sunglasses, sun hats with neck protection, and protective clothing such as long-sleeve bathing suits.
  • When we’re out at the park, the beach, or even Disney (yes, we are those crazy parents who brave Disney in the summer!), we always bring our UV umbrella. It might be bulky, but it provides great coverage for all four of us and makes a hot summer day feel so much cooler underneath. I just wish it were more portable!
  • Think Baby Mineral Sunscreen is our go-to for the entire family, and it's safe to use even for babies under 6 months of age. I love that it's a mineral sunscreen and is 80 minutes water-resistant. When you have kids, you know that the longer the water resistance, the easier it is to get them to pause and reapply—longer resistance means fewer interruptions. Plus, it has a higher SPF of 50, which provides excellent protection. It's great for sensitive skin and easy to apply, although it can leave a white cast initially, which fades after about 30 minutes. Don’t be fooled by the name—adults can use this too! And if your older kid wants to feel cool around their peers, Think Baby also offers a sport version and other options that don’t have the word "baby" on them.
    • Pro Tip: Use a fun applicator to make sunscreen application quicker and easier, keeping kids engaged and cooperative. I've also found it's way simpler to get them to reapply when they're having fun with it. We love the mermaid sunscreen brush for this.
  • For the face, we use Sun Bum Baby Mineral Roll-On. This roll-on version is much more convenient for quick and easy application on their delicate faces, minimizing fuss. It’s also easier to use on the baby without worrying about getting sunblock in their eyes. While Think Baby offers a roll-on, it's only SPF 30, which is why we prefer the Sun Bum roll-on with SPF 50.
  • For my fellow mamas, reapplying sunscreen to the face throughout the day can be a hassle, but I love using powder brush-on sunscreen. My favorite is Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield because it’s easy to use for reapplication and can be applied over makeup.. And... my toddler loves getting in on the fun and applying it too when she sees me using it, so a mineral sunscreen is a must for us.

Important Safety Precaution: The American Academy of pediatrics recommends SPF of 30 or higher, while I personally prefer to go with SPF 50, you can choose to go with SPF 30 and its perfectly acceptable for good protection. SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun's UVB rays while SPF 50 blocks 98%. As you can see this is only a 1% difference, while it may seem minimal we have direct family history of skin cancer, so that 1% extra of protection is a lot to us.

#5 Dehydration

Whether it's due to illness, spending too much time in the sun, or being active without staying properly hydrated, dehydration is a common summer concern for kids. When kids are out in the sun for extended periods, their bodies lose fluids through sweat to cool down, increasing the risk of dehydration. Vigorous activities like sports or outdoor games without enough water can make this even more likely.

Heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses can also lead to dehydration. Heatstroke happens when kids' bodies overheat, often from prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This rapid fluid loss makes it harder for them to stay hydrated.

> Preparation and Prevention! 

We often hear about the signs of dehydration: feeling thirsty, having a dry mouth, dark yellow pee, and not needing to go to the bathroom often (fewer than 3 bathroom visits or wet diapers in a 24-hour period). If dehydration worsens, they might feel dizzy, very tired, confused, have a fast heartbeat, or even faint in extreme cases. However, I like to focus on recognizing the signs of good hydration! Knowing that your child is well-hydrated and what to look for to maintain this is key to preventing them from reaching that point where they aren't hydrated enough and are then exposed to conditions that can push them into dehydration.

Keep an eye out for these three key signs of great hydration:

  1. Clear or Very Light Yellow Pee: Your child's urine should be clear to very light yellow. If it's yellow, they aren't dehydrated but could use a bit more water. This is the best and easiest indicator for parents to track. It might be helpful to occasionally check your child's urine color yourself—yes, that might mean a few extra trips to the bathroom for you this summer, but it's worth it to avoid playing the "Is it clear or light yellow?" guessing game!
  2. Regular Bathroom Visits: Kids should be hitting the bathroom every 2-4 hours. If they're not, it's time for more water. Think of it as nature's way of making sure you get your steps in as you remind them to take those regular potty breaks!
  3. Moist Lips and Mouth: If your child's mouth is moist but their lips are dry, it's time to up their water intake. Ideally, both their lips and mouth should be moist. And hey, it's a good excuse to have them pucker up for a hydration check kiss!

> Dr. Lastra's must-have Summer Bag Essentials for Preventing Dehydration!
  • A reusable water bottle that your kid likes and actually uses
  • Electrolyte solutions are fantastic for boosting hydration and replenishing essential minerals. While there are liquid versions like the famous Pedialyte, getting my kids to drink it is nearly impossible—and I know many parents face the same struggle. Other options include diluting juice, making frozen electrolyte popsicles, or even creating your own electrolyte solution at home with water and a few simple ingredients (feel free to ask me for my favorite recipe on this!). But my personal favorite is an electrolyte powder drink mix called Cure Hydration. My kids love it because they can mix it themselves to make "magic juice," and it tastes great with ingredients that have this pediatrician mom's stamp of approval.
  • If dehydration becomes a concern due to illnesses like vomiting, parents can use prescription Zofran, an anti-nausea medication, if needed.

By keeping these tips and precautions in mind, we can ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for our kids. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and enjoy every moment of your summer!

All of the items recommended above are based on my personal experience with my family and what has worked well for us after trying different products. I do not endorse any of the companies mentioned. This blog post contains affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

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