Vacation at the ER? How to avoid the emergency room during your summer getaway

Every summer my ER fills up with travelers– families far from home with vacation plans gone awry.  Most are children with high fevers, vomiting, broken bones, burns, posion ivy, and infected insect bites.  With a few tricks and a bit of preparation, you can keep your kids out of the ER and enjoy your vacation.

1) When you’re at a party or crowded event, think germs: Family reunions, amusement parks, and crowded summer events are a great way contract the stomach flu, food poisoning, and a host of viral illnesses.  High-volume public restrooms can be a reservoir of bugs that cause vomiting and diarrhea.  Family parties are often the worst, as people don’t want to cancel plans just because one child is sick.  Home-cooked meals and picnics with poor refrigeration are the recipe for food poisoning.  Here are a few tricks to stay safe at crowded events..

- Use a fork:  Avoid dipping into bowls of chips and eating finger foods– how many other hands have been in that bowl?  You are eating their germs.  Get a plate and use a fork.

- Stay away from the sick kid:  When your second cousin starts complaining that her baby’s nose won’t stop running, find someone else for your kids to play with.

- Skip the mayonnaise: Mayonnaise-based potato salad and coleslaw are common culprits for food poisoning, especially when they’ve been sitting out on a serving table too long.  Make your favorite picnic dishes without egg products and avoid foods that require refrigeration.

- Bring hand sanitizer:  Use it a lot.  Share with your kids

2) Don’t swallow the pool water: How much poop is in your pool water?  Probably a lot, according to the CDC.  It turns out that swim diapers don’t really do anything except prevent a chunk of poop from floating away, but it seems the real problem isn’t the babies.  Big kids and grown-ups usually don’t follow that shower-before-you-enter-the-pool rule.  Here’s the take-home point from the CDC on pool safety– don’t drink the pool water.  Here’s my full article on pool water safety.  

3) Treat mosquito bites: It may seem like overkill to treat every little mosquito bite on your toddler, but if you don’t they will scratch with their dirty fingernails.  Next comes the skin infections, many of which require antibiotics and even surgical drainage.  Staph bacteria, including the antibiotic resistant strain MRSA, commonly infect scratched mosquito bites.  I treat insect bites with topical benadryl and hydrocortisone (available over-the-counter).  If a child really got eaten alive and is miserably itchy, I give a dose of oral benadryl for itch.

4) Bring a family first aid kit: Many, if not most, common summer injuries can be remedied with a few medications and basic first aid.  But, you have to have the right first aid supplies at the right time.  Don’t leave home without a family first aid kit, complete with child-friendly supplies such as liquid medications, nausea medication, anti-itch cream, sunscreen, bug spray, and much more.  Here is my complete list of what to include in your family first aid kit.

ED_15) Keep toddlers and pyromaniac teens away from BBQ grills and campfires: Burns are the worst– nothing will squash summer fun like the incessant pain of a burn.  Toddlers tend to get burned on BBQ grills, teens and toddlers alike get burned from open campfires.  Kids can get crazy and excited around open fires.  Draw a line with chalk or a stick around the fire pit and don’t let anyone except the “firemaster” inside.  Teach your kids fire safety.  We actually got out a white board, sat the kids down on a couch, and ran a “fire class.”  They loved it.

My colleague, Dr. Yasmeen Daud, works in our burn care facility at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.  She’s so burn averse that she built a house without a fireplace.  Here’s her article on burn prevention based on a child’s age.

Are you flying with kids or opting for a road trip?  Here are my tips for flying with children and flying with breastmilk.  I also have 11 tricks for a successful road trip with kids.


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