Summer’s here and the kids are outdoors. But while they’re having fun, parents and caregivers should be on the lookout for these four summer health threats:

1. The Sun

After a long, cold winter the sun’s rays feel great, but too much sun can cause painful sunburns. Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light can also lead to skin cancer, including potentially deadly melanomas, not to mention premature aging. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Avoid sun between the most intense daylight hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Seek shade whenever possible.
  • Wear protective clothing, like lightweight pants, long sleeves, sunglasses, and brimmed hats that shade the neck.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15.
  • Apply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming, towel drying, or sweating.

(Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping infants under 6 months out of the sun. Sunscreen is not recommended for infants, but a small amount can be applied to your baby’s face and back of hands if necessary.)

2. Dehydration

This is another common problem during the summer. "Parents take note of kids who complain of headaches or say they feel dizzy," says Ashanti Woods, MD, FAAP, attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center, Family Health Centers of Baltimore. "These are symptoms of dehydration."

Taking frequent breaks in hot, humid conditions and making sure you get enough fluids is the best way to avoid dehydration. "Kids say they aren’t thirsty because they don’t want to interrupt their fun, but sweating causes fluid loss, so hydrating with water or Gatorade should be encouraged," says Woods. He advises against juice and soda—the sugar content is too high. And believe it or not, dehydration can also occur while swimming.

3. The Great Outdoors

Sleeping in tents outside is great fun for many families during the summer. Here are some safety recommendations from Woods and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • Know what lives naturally in the area. "Find out if there are poisonous spiders, snakes, or insects that sting, and be prepared. You should also know about wild animals in the vicinity. With all the resources available online today it doesn’t make sense not to be educated."
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged. This is invaluable if you get lost, sustain an injury, or find yourself in any sort of trouble.
  • Use insect repellant. Not all of nature’s threats are easy to avoid—or see. Unfortunately, insects like ticks and mosquitos harbor disease, so it’s important to protect yourself and your family from these creatures. "Many parents don’t like the idea of spraying their child’s skin with chemicals," says Woods. "You can spray your hands, and then apply the insect repellent to the child, or their clothing. If you do apply it directly to their skin, have them turn their heads to minimize risk of inhalation. Remove insect repellant from the skin with soap and water at the end of the day."
  • Choose the right insect repellent. Insect repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and p-menthane-3,8-diol products provide longer-lasting protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Be careful with DEET. Insect repellents containing DEET have been tested and approved as safe for kids, but Woods suggests using lower concentrations (less than 30 percent) if kids will only be outside for an hour or two, and never apply it to their faces. (The higher concentrations are longer lasting, not more effective.) Woods doesn’t recommend applying repellent to kids’ hands either: "Kids can ingest it if they put their hands in their mouth, and it can cause irritation if they touch their eyes." Because repellent with DEET shouldn’t be applied more than once a day, avoid insect repellent/sunscreen combinations, since sunscreen needs more frequent application.
  • Use products with permethrin—a repellent and insecticide—on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and other gear if you’re going camping. According to the EPA, permethrin applied to clothing will continue to repel and kill insects after several washings.
  • When hiking, always tuck pant cuffs into socks and boots to make it more difficult for ticks to attach. And dress kids in bright colors to increase visibility.
  • Never drink water from streams and creeks. It may be contaminated, and giardia lamblia, a common parasite, can cause nausea, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and explosive diarrhea leading to dehydration.
  • Bring iodine tablets with you. If your supply of bottled water runs out, dissolve the tablets to purify water from outdoor sources.

4. The Foods We Eat

Hot weather can make food safety an issue. Proper food preparation and storage protects against foodborne illnesses from bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria, which can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

"Cooked and uncooked food should be kept separate to avoid cross contamination, and separate utensils should be used during food preparation," Woods advises. "The general rule is to keep cold foods chilled to minimize foodborne illnesses from bacteria." For instance, "After a fun day at the amusement part, don’t dig into a heaping helping of potato salad that has been sitting in the heat. That food may have become contaminated, and eating it will make you sick—probably not the way you were planning to end your day."

Here are four other food safety tips:

  • Never put cooked food on a dish that previously held raw meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water if they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Use a paper towel to dry your hands and any surfaces that come into contact with raw food. Dishtowels and sponges can become contaminated with bacteria, and spread to another person.
  • At barbecues, cook food to the proper temperature (145° F, plus three minutes’ resting time for beef, port, veal and lamb; 165° F for poultry, and 145° for fish and shellfish). “Don’t eat bloody meat. It needs to be cooked all the way through,” Woods advises.

While these guidelines may seem too numerous to follow, by putting health and safety first, you’ll help make sure you and your family have a fun—and illness-free—summer.

Ashanti Woods, MD, FAAP approved this article.


Ashanti Woods, MD, FAAP. Interview on July 13, 2015.

"Prevention Guidelines." The Skin Cancer Foundation. Accessed July 19, 2015.

"Sun and Water Safety Tips." American Academy of Pediatrics. Page accessed July 29, 2015.

"Camping Health and Safety Tips." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 9, 2015.

"Insect Repellant Use and Safety." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated March 31, 2015.

"Food Safety for Your Family." The Nemours Center for Children’s Health Media. Accessed July 19, 2015.

"Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart." United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Information Service. June 2012.