Spring is in the air in Whatcom County. Flowers are blooming and bees are buzzing. When it comes to kids' health, though, those flowers and bees translate to allergies and bee stings.
While it means the winter gloom is finally starting to let up, spring presents its own health concerns for families as kids start heading outdoors to enjoy a few glimpses of sunshine.
"That's what we want them to do; we want them to increase their activities," says Laurie Anderson Bellingham School District nurse.
Anderson shares 10 kids' health concerns that parents should keep in mind as winter turns to spring.
1. Getting out
As the days get longer and the sun starts to peek out from the clouds, kids tend to stay outside longer, and that can lead to more exploration of risks. "Here, you just walk out the door and you can be on so many trails," Anderson says. "You can be hiking, mountain biking. You can be on a lake, you can be canoeing." Parents should always use the five Ws when their kids leave the house: Where are you going? Who is taking you there and getting you home? What are you doing? Who are you going with? When are you going to be back?
Bees start getting more active in the spring time, and that means kids have to be careful not to get stung. For kids with allergies, it's important to keep an EpiPen on hand when enjoying the outdoors should a sting occur. Parents and kids should both know how to use the EpiPens, which should be injected into the outer thigh. Parents should make sure school nurses have an EpiPen on hand for field trips and recess as well.
3. Seasonal allergies
Kids with allergies are easy to spot, Anderson says. They often have red eyes, a nose that runs like a leaky faucet and a whole lot of sneezing. "People that are really impacted by allergies, it does make their day look a little different," she says. Stuffiness can make it harder to hear, itchy eyes can make it harder to see and feeling crummy can make it hard to focus in class. Anderson advises parents who think their kids may have allergies to check with a doctor rather than immediately turning to over-the-counter medicines.
Some time between April and May, Whatcom County will get a teaser week for summer. The sun will come out, temperatures will rise and kids will go out in droves to soak up the rays. But just because it's not full-on summer sun, it doesn't mean you can't get burned. Parents should make sure to slather their kids up with sunscreen for sunny-day outings no matter the season. And if you're going to be out for the whole day, bring the bottle so you can re-apply. "People sometimes can get fried before they realize it because we're so unaccustomed to light of that intensity," Anderson says.
5. More biking
When the weather starts to clear, more students start riding their bikes to and from school. Now is a good time to check helmets for cracks and make sure that bikes have reflective lights for visibility, as well as give kids a refresher course on bike laws and general bike safety rules.
6. Spring cleaning medicines
Don't let your spring cleaning stop at the medicine cabinet. Now's the time to go through medicines, prescriptions and pills to throw out anything that is expired or is no longer being used. "Just don't have them in the cabinet," she says. "It reduces errors. It reduces experimentation and opportunity. If you don't need them, get them out of there." Potentially toxic cleaning supplies should also be evaluated for their usefulness.
7. Hiking hazards
Whatcom County is full of trails. Beautiful as the scenery may be, there could be some dangers lurking in the leaves. Spring is a great time for parents to teach their kids about plant identification so they can spot poison oak, poison ivy, stinging nettles or poison hemlock when they're out in the woods.
8. Swim lessons
There may not be many swimming pools in the yards around Whatcom County, but there are plenty of lakes and rivers, and when the sun comes out, there's nothing more tempting than taking a dip. "We just have so much water around here," Anderson says. "Parents need to have kids who are strong swimmers." Swimming lessons for kids of all ages are available through local YMCA locations and Bellingham's Arne Hanna Aquatic Center.
9. Travel safety kits
Whether it's picnics, field trips, hikes or camping, nicer weather can take kids and families far from home. To make sure you're prepared for any health issues that happen on the road, it's a good idea to make a kit with any items you need. Pack up a traditional first-aid kit and make sure to add any items or medications for specific issues your children have, whether it's an EpiPen for stings, an inhaler for asthma or snacks for a child with diabetes.
10. Sports physicals
Get student athletes ready to compete in the next school year by scheduling routine physicals in the spring rather than waiting until the end of summer before school starts. Anderson says the office will get frantic calls before the season starts from parents whose kids need to get physicals before participating in a sport, so it's better to get them taken care of early. "We just want their doctors to have said, 'Hey, they're fine," Anderson says.