During a wildfire, the biggest health risks to children are fire and smoke. Health effects can include any or all of the following symptoms, per the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Chest tightness or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Burning or stinging of the nose, throat and eyes
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
How can parents protect kids from the harmful health effects of fire and smoke?
- Evacuate the area if recommended by authorities.
- Stay indoors and minimize smoke exposure. Close all windows and doors.
- When driving, keep windows and vents closed. Turn the air-conditioning to re-circulate.
- Avoid sports practices, games or extreme exertion if the air quality is poor.
- Do NOT give your child a mask to filter contaminants, since masks do not work when not fitted correctly. Smaller sized masks may appear to fit a child’s face, but no manufacturers recommend their use for children.
- Increase water intake to avoid dehydration, which can happen quicker when breathing is compromised.
- Continue to minimize exposure to other sources of air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, smoke from wood or coal-burning furnaces, or smoke from a barbecue, as the combined effect of these smoke sources can have a greater impact on your child and family than the fire alone.
- Children with chronic respiratory problems, such as asthma, are at increased risk. Children at increased risk should remain in a clean-air environment, and be kept indoors until air quality improves. Administer any protective medications to your child as directed by your provider. They should be monitored closely for signs or symptoms of harmful health effects. If they are showing these symptoms and their usual medications cannot bring them under control, they should be taken to a nearby medical facility, despite the risks of traveling.
Parents should be mindful of the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress, says Dr. Charles Golden, executive medical director of the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network.
What are the warning signs of respiratory distress?
- Rapid breathing
- Use of accessory muscles (the muscles in the chest, rib cage and neck) become noticeable with each breath
- Fatigue, lack of energy, and increase in sleepiness in addition to the above symptoms
- Flaring of the nostrils or grunting with each breath
- Bluish/purplish discoloration of the lips, tongue and inner mouth in combination with the above symptoms
If your child has these symptoms, seek urgent medical attention despite the risks of travel and outdoor air exposure. If these symptoms are severe, call 911.
As your family prepares for the fun tradition of trick-or-treating, keep in mind these easy Halloween safety tips, from the CHOC Children’s community education team and Safe Kids Orange County, to ensure your celebration is filled with treats instead of tricks.
Above all, remember that the busiest trick-or-treating hours are in the evenings during rush hour, so use an abundance of caution in residential neighborhoods that will see heavy foot traffic. Children are excited on this day and can move in unpredictable ways, and are more than twice as likely to be hit by a vehicle and killed on Halloween as on any other day of the year.
- Planning a fun and creative costume can be one of the most exciting parts of Halloween for children. Wear costumes that are bright and reflective, or add reflective material to costumes and trick-or-treat bags to added extra visibility. Make sure shoes fit well and costumes are an appropriate length to prevent tripping.
- Masks can block eyesight, so consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats to take your costume to the next level instead. Hats should fit properly and not slip down and cover the eyes.
- Avoid decorative contact lenses without an eye examination and prescription from an eye care professional. Some packaging may claim this is unnecessary and they are a “one size fits all” product, these products can cause pain, inflammation and other serious eye disorders.
- Drive with full headlights on in order to spot kids from as far away as possible.
- Spend an extra moment at intersections to scan for kids who could be in medians or stepping off curbs. Use extra caution and drive slowly when entering or exiting driveways and alleyways.
- Although you may see the children, keep in mind their costumes may unfortunately limit their visibility and they may not see you as well as you see them, or at all.
- Never text or use your phone while driving.
Other Safety Reminders
- Teach children how to call 9-1-1- in the event of an emergency or if they become lost.
- Children and guardians should both carry flashlights and/or glow sticks to increase visibility.
- Double-check the candy your child receives before they sample any treats. Ensure the items are properly sealed and there are no holes in the packaging.
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