The most common summer injuries that bring kids to the emergency department

Summertime for many kids and adolescents means the excitement of water activities, fun in the sun and spending as much time as possible outdoors. Yet summer is also known as “trauma season” among pediatric experts like Dr. Ted Heyming, chair of emergency medicine at CHOC. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a leading children’s safety organization, summer season represents millions of emergency room visits by children 14 and younger due to unintentional injuries, many resulting in death.

Dr. Ted Heyming, chair of emergency medicine at CHOC

To help avoid unintentional injuries, Dr. Heyming recommends that parents and caregivers be on high alert and supervise children extra closely. The following are the top injuries Dr. Heyming and his team see in the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Hospital during the summer season and tips to avoid summer injuries:

Head injuries

The risk of head injury is high in adolescents and especially common in the spring and summer months with popular outdoor activities such as bicycle riding, in-line skating and skateboarding. The injury can be as mild as a bump, bruise or laceration, or can be moderate to severe due to a concussion, deep cut or open wound, fractured skull bone(s), or from internal bleeding and damage to the brain. Parents should seek emergency medical attention for their children should any of the following occur after a head injury:

  • Vomiting more than once
  • Alteration in mental state
  • Increased irritability, fussiness
  • A seizure
  • Weakness in parts of the body, such as in an arm or leg
  • Bad headache

How to prevent head injuries

Wearing a helmet whenever riding a bicycle, in-line skates, or a skateboard should be an automatic habit. Helmets should fit properly on your child’s head and also be fastened correctly. A helmet that fits and is fastened properly does not move around on the head. Worn properly, helmets are effective in preventing severe head injuries. Here’s a video with tips on how to properly fit a helmet.

Facial injuries 

Children may get minor cuts, wounds, and lacerations to the face while engaging in play or sports activities. Most of these injuries can be handled at home with simple first-aid treatment. Seek immediate medical attention for cuts and wounds on your child’s face if accompanied by any of the following:

  • Heavy bleeding that does not stop after 5 to 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • The injury involves the eyelids or eyes
  • Wound is gaping.
  • Injury is caused by a puncture wound, or dirty or rusty object or embedded with debris such as dirt, stones or gravel
  • The wound is caused by an animal or human bite
  • If your child indicates the wound is excessively painful, or if there’s a possibility of a fracture of the head or any other bone
  • Your child shows signs of infection such as increased warmth, redness, swelling or drainage

Help prevent facial injuries by teaching your child

  • Not to poke or place objects in his ears or nose
  • Not to walk or run while holding an object in her mouth
  • Not to suck or chew on hard, sharp or pointed objects
  • Wear protective eye, ear, or face guards for sports activities that could cause injury

Wrist and elbow fractures

A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone and can result from falls, trauma or a direct blow or kick to the body. Wrists, forearms and elbows are vulnerable to these injuries, and they are especially common among children ages 2 and older. Many occur with popular summer activities such as basketball, bicycle riding and skateboarding. The following symptoms in the injured area might indicate a fracture that requires immediate medical attention:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Obvious deformity
  • Difficulty using or moving the injured area in a normal manner (unable to walk)
  • Warmth, bruising or redness

How to prevent wrist and elbow fractures this summer

Although fractures are a common part of childhood for many active children, you can take steps to help prevent them through simple safety precautions such as making sure kids always wear safety gear like helmets and wrist guards when participating in sports.


Summertime water activities are fun, but always present a risk for drowning. Drowning can happen without a sound. It is the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 5 and can happen in less than 2 inches of water. In 2018, Orange County had 36 drownings in children less than 5, and five of those were fatal.

How to prevent drowning

  • Never leave a child unattended near water in a pool, tub, bucket or ocean. There is no substitute for adult supervision.
  • Teach kids survival swimming skills.
  • Kids that are not strong swimmers should wear US Coast Guard-approved, well-fitting life jackets.
  • Make sure kids have constant supervision when they’re in or around water. Always designate at least one adult as a “water watcher.”
  • The home should be isolated from the pool with a fence at least 60 inches tall, with a self-closing, self-latching gate.
  • In 2015, Orange County created the Drowning Prevention Task Force, of which CHOC is a member, to develop recommendations on methods and strategies to improve drowning prevention efforts in Orange County. Learn more here.

Bringing your child to the emergency department

The emergency department is the best place for apparent life-threatening events. Not all emergency departments take care of children on a regular basis. It is best to go somewhere that specializes in children’s health with specialized training and equipment made just for kids.

This article was updated on May 15, 2020.