Stay Healthy All Summer Long

Kids in Pool

Learn what to do about bug bites, poison ivy, the public pool, and more!

The cuts, bumps, and scrapes of summer you can handle — and for the really serious stuff, you’ve got the pros on speed dial. But what to do about that funky chlorine smell at the pool? Or the poison ivy rash your kid just won’t stop scratching? You’d think by now, you’d have the answers — and yet every summer, you still find yourself facing a new round of stumpers: rules change, activities change, and kids change especially, too. To answer the season’s latest round of head-scratchers, we went straight to the experts. 

Q. Should I feel safe about — or skeeved by — the strong chlorine smell coming from the community pool?
A. Skeeved. “That’s not really chlorine you’re smelling,” says Chris J. Wiant, Ph.D., chair of the Water Quality and Health Council. “If the pool has a pungent smell, it’s because of compounds known as chloramines. They’re formed when chlorine and nitrogen in natural waste, like body oils, perspiration, urine, and fecal matter, combine chemically.” A properly cleaned pool will have a mild chlorine scent, but if the smell takes you back or irritates your eyes, skip the dip. “You may be at risk for pool-borne illnesses,” says Wiant.

Q. Poison ivy has invaded! How do I ease my child’s itch? 
A. Ice, ice, baby . . . and Benadryl. “The coldness of the ice confuses the nerves that trigger the itch sensation,” says Bruce Robinson, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Wrap ice in a washcloth and apply a few times a day for 10 to 15 minutes. Or try Sarna Original (CVS/pharmacy, $12), a cooling lotion. At night? Use Benadryl. “It helps ease the allergic reaction and, most of all, causes drowsiness so your kid can’t scratch,” says Dr. Robinson. Symptoms generally last for one to three weeks


Q. I can’t get my child to keep sunglasses on. Does he really have to wear them?
A. He should, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the intensity of ultraviolet light is greatest. “A child’s eye lens is clearer than an adult’s, so it allows more UV rays to enter, which can increase risk for early cataract and retinal damage,” says David L. Rogers, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. Look for wraparound sunglasses that fit well and block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays (it should say this on the label).

Q. Our playground just installed a water play area. The kids are psyched, but is it clean?
A. You’ll need to do a little investigating to find out. “Because water play areas are fairly new to playgrounds, there may not be specific health requirements,” says Michele Hlavsa, R.N., chief of the Healthy Swimming program for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there should be. While there’s no standing water in these kid-cooling-stations, germs can wash down into the water holding tank to be sprayed up again. “These tanks are often small, which could allow germs to reach higher concentrations than in a standard pool, potentially causing more illnesses,” says Hlavsa. (Think swimmer’s ear, rashes, diarrhea, and vomiting. Although possible, it’s unlikely that kids would contract a more serious viral infection from this type of exposure.) Contact your local health department and ask for the latest inspection score. If you discover that your fountain isn’t filtered or inspected, avoid it.
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