The summer months in Colorado are known for being abuzz with recreational activity, but it is also the time of year when hospitals see an increase in accidents causing serious injuries or death.
Children, in particular, are at risk as they engage in higher-risk activities such as swimming, skateboarding, football and horseback riding. There is an abundance of resources for parents to keep their kids safe, and local trauma doctors recently offered some words of advice for staying out of the emergency room.
Wear your helmet
A common theme develops as physicians and nurses explain the key ingredients in summer safety, and at the top of the list is a well-fitted helmet.
Medical centers such as Parker Adventist Hospital provide free helmet adjustments upon request and hand out equestrian and bicycle helmets during summer events like the Parker Country Festival and Cherry Creek Wellness Fair. Research continues to point to the effectiveness of a helmet in preventing major injury during high-impact accidents.
Second-impact syndrome, in which a child sustains two head injuries in a short time span, can cause permanent brain damage or death. The most severe injuries can be stopped by a helmet that is designed for its respective sport.
"Some parents don't realize how important it is to protect the brain," said Vikki Pope, trauma manager at Parker Adventist. "Everything else is fixable."
Equestrian-related injuries are the second most common type of injuries seen during the summer in the emergency department at Parker Adventist, even ranking ahead of auto accidents. They range from broken wrists to spine fractures, shattered ribs, pelvic breaks or punctured lungs.
Pope says horses run up to 40 mph and buck riders off at a significant height. She attributes the number of horse accidents to the presence of hundreds of private riding arenas and venues in Douglas County. She recalled the story of a man who fell from his horse last summer. He never wore a helmet, but his wife insisted that he put one on the day of his accident. He suffered a spinal fracture, but luckily was not paralyzed. Pope attributes his fortune to the helmet.
Supervision is critical
Dr. Jennifer Aregood, emergency pediatric medicine specialist for CarePoint PC, which works out of Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, said she has witnessed increases in burn cases with children during summer months. She stressed the importance of supervision around gas and charcoal grills, as well as fireworks.
"People don't know that sparklers can get up to 1,000 degrees," she said.
Supervision is also critical in preventing tragedies at backyard, neighborhood and public pools. Aregood recommends having an adult within arms reach of a small child in the pool. It takes a matter of seconds for something to go wrong. The Safe Kids U.S. Summer Safety Ranking Report says drowning cases increase 89 percent in the summer over the annual monthly average.
Parents should also be aware of the dangers of sun exposure and heat exhaustion. Children and adults in Colorado are more prone to the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays because there is less atmosphere between the sun and the ground to block them. The intensity of UV rays increases 10 percent for every 1,000 feet above sea level, Aregood said, and sunblock is important on even cloudy days. Meteorologists are predicting are particularly hot summer, so doctors are also urging the intake of more liquids to stave off dehydration.
Lightning is an extreme danger at higher altitudes. Those who are outdoors should seek shelter inside a structure. The phenomenon is especially an issue for hikers.
Heed warning signs
Every mom and dad should learn the warning signs of concussions and internal injuries sustained during big hits or falls, Pope said. A ruptured spleen might cause abdominal pain and internal bleeding, but not be detected for a few days. They can be life-threatening if not treated properly. Kids who sustain concussions get headaches and are sometimes lethargic, tired, irritable and distant.
In addition to helmets, protective wear for the elbows, knees, wrists and chest is recommended by medical professionals simply because of their effectiveness. Young riders who fall from road motorcycles, ATVs and dirt bikes can shatter bones or suffer serious road rash. Bicycle crashes are also among the top reasons why kids and adults are taken to the emergency room.
Online and hard copy brochures containing summer safety tips are easy to obtain. Parents who empower themselves with knowledge are better prepared to send their kids into a world where anything can happen.
Making sure children follow just a few basic rules can be the difference between a minor scrape and a trip to the hospital.
Summer safety resources
American Academy of Pediatrics, http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/summertips.cfm
American Red Cross, www.redcross.org, under the 'preparing and getting trained' section
The Children's Hospital, http://www.thechildrenshospital.org/wellness/safety/MakeItaSafeKidsSummer.aspx
U.S. Safe Kids, http://www.safekids.org/parents/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/concussion/
Parker Adventist Hospital, www.parkerhospital.org
Helmet fitting: 303-269-4809
Causes of accidental injury deaths
Safe Kids Worldwide research indicates that five of the most common causes of children’s accidental injury deaths in summer are:
Drowning (increases 89 percent in the summer over the annual monthly average)
Biking (increases 45 percent)
Falls (increases 21 percent)
Motor vehicle passenger injuries (increases 20 percent)
Pedestrian injuries (increases 16 percent)