The world can be a dangerous place. Each of us knows far too well how an average day can be interrupted by an unanticipated injury. And while most homes have some semblance of a first aid kit tucked away in a bathroom or closet, we’re not always certain what to do when it comes to an injury or accident. When we move beyond Band-aids, antibiotic ointment or an antiseptic solution, we can be unsure about the best response. Is the injury bad enough to make us pick up the phone and call the doctor’s office? Or should we be dialing 911? Particularly if we’re trying to help a child with an injury, we may not always know if what we’d do for an adult is the right thing to do for an infant, toddler or even a pre-teen.
“Generally, first aid for children is the same as first aid for adults,” says Dr. Mathew Brimberry, a family practitioner with Premier Family Physicians. “For children, if it’s a cut, it’s a matter of stopping the bleeding. Or in an injury in sports, treating the strain or sprain. Or giving them Benadryl for a mild allergic reaction. So for many injuries, first aid is the same for a child as for an adult. But in some situations, children have different risks and need different treatment.”
One way that children differ from adults, explains Dr. Brimberry, is in body proportion. In young children and toddlers, the head is bigger proportionately to the body than it is in teens and adults.
“In a car accident, since children have a larger head in proportion to the size of their bodies, they may be more prone to a head injury,” explains Dr. Brimberry. This difference in body proportion also comes into play when a child suffers a burn. The larger head size can also make it harder to calculate what percent of the skin area has been burned, which may make the burn appear less serious than it really is.
“A burn can also be more significant in a child because a child’s skin is thinner than an adult’s skin,” he explains.
Children also differ from adults when it comes to choking and CPR. According to the Mayo Clinic, food is the most common cause of infant choking. But infants can also choke on small parts of toys or anything little they decide to put in their mouths as they explore their surroundings. This makes choking a common cause of injury and even death for young children, the Mayo Clinic cautions.
Choking often happens at mealtime. But if your child seems to be having trouble swallowing food, Dr. Brimberry cautions to “observe the child first – don’t intervene if the child is trying to push something out that they are having trouble swallowing. Don’t initially slap them on the back, as that may cause the food to lodge in their windpipe. If your child goes from nearly choking to actually choking, that is when you attempt the Heimlich Maneuver – or back blows, if the child is under the age of one. If he or she is struggling to breathe, call 911.” If your baby or young child is choking, the Mayo Clinic says to not use a finger sweep, since this can also cause the food to lodge further.
“You do not want to blindly put your finger in the back of the child’s throat when the child is choking, but if you can see inside the mouth and see what the child is choking on, then you can take it out of [his] mouth,” advises Dr. Brimberry. “If you’re dealing with a child under the age of one who is choking, turn the infant over on his stomach, holding him on one of your arms, and deliver five back blows between his shoulder blades using the heel of your hand. Then turn the baby onto his back and do five chest compressions if he’s not breathing. Then turn [him] again onto [his] stomach and do five more back blows.”
A dangerous world
Because children are so busy exploring the world, they can come into contact with lots of things that are harmful or even deadly if consumed. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), common substances that can poison a child include nail polish remover, pesticides, fertilizers, prescription or over-the-counter drugs and plants. Symptoms of poisoning can include vomiting and diarrhea, drooling, a rash or trouble breathing, according to AAFP.
“You should program the number of your nearest poison control facility into your phone: 1-800-222-1222,” advises Dr. Brimberry. “They will not only give you life-saving advice on potential poisoning, but they also will help you handle treatment of snake bites and all types of insect stings. And we don’t recommend using ipecac anymore to induce vomiting as we used to, because we don’t want a caustic poison to be regurgitated and do more damage.”
The great outdoors
As children start exploring backyards and parks, they can encounter many of Texas’ biting, stinging insects. In some cases, insect bites and stings can lead to dangerous allergic reactions. But another risk is West Nile Virus.
“In Texas, you have to be careful about West Nile Virus,” warns Dr. Brimberry. “Be sure you practice mosquito avoidance and do things like dump out standing water. You should also spray insect repellents with DEET on your children’s clothing. But don’t use a product with more than 30 percent DEET on your children’s skin.”
If the stinger culprit is a bee, “you can use a credit card to get the stinger out. Just slide the card up to the stinger and then use it to dislodge the stinger. Don’t squeeze the skin around the stinger to try and get it out, because that will just squeeze the venom into the skin.”
“If your child’s lips swell after being stung by a bee, fire ant or wasp, first remove the stinger and wash the area with soap and water. If they start to get hives, it is okay to give them Benadryl. And if they have trouble breathing, call 911,” he explains.
You can reduce the likelihood of accidents like burns, or choking or poisoning by taking steps to make your home safer.
“It’s important to baby-proof your house before your child is mobile,” suggests Dr. Brimberry, “and also see that grandparents and aunts and uncles baby-proof their homes if your children are regular visitors.” Baby-proofing can mean child-proof locks on cabinets and drawers, as well as taking extra steps like getting rid of old or expired medicines and household products, and keeping things in their original containers, so you don’t confuse a harmless substance with a dangerous one.
“Accidents that happen at home are the main reason children under the age of four are seen in an ER,” explains Dr. Brimberry.
Hopefully with good preparation – and a good knowledge of first aid and CPR – you’ll help ensure that your children will easily overcome life’s mishaps. And that bumps, bruises and stings will be a natural, but not major, part of growing up.
Sara Rider is a native Austinite who has worked with physicians and hospitals throughout Texas. She frequently writes freelance articles on health topics for newspapers and magazines.