May 26, 2020 by John Fernandez
Tips for a Safer Spring Break
Whether you’re in denial or not, it’s time for parents to take note of the risks when school-age children through college students have extra time on their hands.
To get insight into the injuries and illnesses that commonly plague children and young adults this time of year, we asked two of Baptist Health’s pediatric emergency medicine physicians, Fernando Mendoza, M.D., and Francisco Medina, M.D.
Dr. Mendoza, medical director of the Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital and of Pediatric Emergency Services for West Kendall Baptist Hospital, says that preschoolers, elementary and middle school students face the greatest risks from water and outdoor sporting activities.
“Spring Break is the start of ‘swimming season’ for us in South Florida,” he said. “It’s also when we begin to see an increased number of submersion injuries from near drowning and drowning as well.”
Annually, drowning leads the cause of accidental death among children 1 to 4 years old in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health. And Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for this age group. For older children and teens up to 15 years, drowning remains in the top five causes of death among Florida residents, 2011 statistics show.
While many school-age kids know how to swim, their younger siblings accompany them to pools and the beach.
Dr. Mendoza advises parents to use pool fences as a barrier of protection and to be extra vigilant when supervising toddlers around water.
Parents should also protect their kids’ skin from sunburn with a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and should reapply after swimming or sweating, he says. If a child does get a sunburn, Dr. Mendoza recommends applying a cool cloth to the skin and advises against using home remedies like applying butter or meat tenderizer.
Another threat to kids when they’re out of school for Spring Break is orthopedic injuries and lacerations from outdoor activities.
“There’s no way to prevent every injury,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Kids should be outside playing and enjoying their time away from school. Parents just need to be reminded what to do if an injury occurs.”
For cuts, he recommends applying pressure with a clean cloth or bandage to stop the bleeding and washing with clean water. Contrary to what many of us did as kids, do not clean a cut with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. If the cut is deep or doesn’t stop bleeding, an emergency room visit is necessary to determine if stitches are needed.
For broken bones or muscle sprains, Dr. Mendoza suggests a visit to a pediatric emergency center, like the ones at Baptist, West Kendall and Homestead Hospitals. Pediatric orthopedic surgeons will advise the best treatment options for those injuries.
Teens and College Students
Older students in high school and college also are at risk for orthopedic injuries and lacerations, says Dr. Medina, medical director of pediatric emergency services and Speediatrics at Homestead Hospital. But, topping the list of risks for this age group is alcohol and drug use, sexual assault and illnesses from traveling abroad.
Alcohol and Drug Use
“Adolescent behaviors get wild during this time,” he said of Spring Break. “Teens spend time outside of home during high-risk times, such as late-night hours. That’s when they are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs.”
Add to that the tendency for teens and college students to hang out or travel with a group of friends, which a 2007 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found significantly increased drug and alcohol use compared to students who stayed home or vacationed with their families.
“When adolescents binge drink, mix alcohol with drugs or ingest multiple drugs at a time, all sorts of things can go wrong,” Dr. Medina said. “We see a lot of students in the Emergency Center with acute intoxication, or alcohol poisoning, and drug overdoses. These, unfortunately, may lead to sexual assaults as well.”
Students who travel abroad during Spring Break should understand their risks for illnesses common in the areas they’re visiting, and they should take precaution to avoid contracting those illnesses, Dr. Medina advises.
In the parts of the Caribbean, for example, Hepatitis A and malaria are common. He recommends students traveling to these areas get a Hepatitis A vaccine, avoid raw or undercooked food, unwashed produce and tap water, use mosquito repellant and mosquito netting, and take available medications to prevent malaria. Handwashing, too, is extremely important, he says.
“Any signs of fever or diarrhea should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible,” Dr. Medina said, adding that parents may want to purchase special insurance policies that include medical transport back to the United States if an illness or injury occurs abroad. “There’s no high degree of medical care in some of these places, so your risks are higher when you need emergency treatment abroad.”
Both doctors suggest that parents stay involved and aware of their children’s activities during Spring Break. They say pre-planning, vigilance and anticipation can go a long way in preventing an emergency and ensuring a safer Spring Break.