By Aviva Patz

For kids, summer fun means outdoor sports: hiking, biking, skateboarding, playing Frisbee, swimming, boating and generally going wild outside. It can also mean injuries. “We undoubtedly see an increase in ER visits by children and their families in the summer,” says Vincent Eletto, M.D., an emergency room doctor at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J. “We can’t avoid skinned knees, but with some precautions and awareness, we can prevent more serious injuries.”

Here are some of the most common injuries — and what you need to play it safe with your kids’ health and safety this summer:

Summer Injury No. 1: Brain damage. A helmet is the No. 1 way to prevent head injury when cycling, inline skating, skateboarding, or playing hockey or football. “Head injuries are the most common bicycling injury — and the easiest to prevent,” says Eletto. Look for one designed for your specific sport and make sure it fits properly. It shouldn’t be too wide or too loose, and it shouldn’t slip when the head moves. Bike-style helmets made from expanded polystyrene offer the best impact protection.

Summer Injury No. 2: Tooth loss. Dentists estimate that 13-39 percent of dental injuries happen during sports, and about 80 percent of those injuries affect at least one of the front teeth. Wearing a mouth guard protects the teeth, tongue, lips and jaw. Get superior protection with a mouth guard that’s custom-fit by your child’s dentist.

Summer Injury No. 3: Wrist and knee fractures. Wrist injuries are the most common type of injury when it comes to roller sports. Researchers whose studies of inline skating injuries have been published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that wrist guards and elbow pads were key to preventing injuries, including fractures. Look for guards with a hard plastic splint for maximum protection. Kneepads, which absorb some of the shock from hard hits and falls, should fit snugly — not uncomfortably tight or so loose that they slip down. For skating, choose a kneepad with a hard outer shell.

Summer Injury No. 4: Drowning. Keep beginner swimmers safe with floaties (inflatable arm bands or vests) or a full-on life jacket. Older kids should wear life jackets while boating, rafting, tubing or water-skiing. “Drownings and near-drownings remain our No. 1 enemy,” says Eletto. Always have an adult on lifeguard duty and keep pools fenced in to avoid accidental dips. Empty the kiddie pool when done and turn it upside down. And strongly consider swim lessons for children as young as 1 year.

Summer Injury No. 5: Sunburn. Just one really bad sunburn in a child younger than 18 could double his chances of getting skin cancer later in life, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Slather on a shot-glass’s worth of broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater) at least 20 minutes before heading outdoors, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or heavy sweating. Some 80 percent of ultraviolet light filters through the clouds, so grease up even on hazy, cloudy days.

Summer Injury No. 6: Heat stroke. The number of heat-related injuries increased by 133 percent from 1997 to 2006, with 47.6 percent affecting kids, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. To avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke, drink water every 20 minutes during sports play, wear a hat and stay out of the sun during the heat of the day (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). If your child’s face gets red and he’s not visibly sweating while he’s playing sports, it’s time to get out of the sun, rest and hydrate, says Eletto.

By taking the necessary precautions and buying essential protective gear, you can help prevent summer fun from ending in a trip to the emergency room or dentist’s office.

Aviva Patz has written for many national publications, such as Parents, Parenting, Health, Self, Redbook and Marie Claire. She is a frequent contributor to Healthy Kids.

Image source: sportsworld.savvy-cafe.com

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