It’s hard to imagine a young child having a condition often associated with our beloved elders but arthritis is a very real problem for 300,000 children with juvenile arthritis (JA). Having a condition like this at such a young age can present unique obstacles. Children may not always be fully able to communicate how they and their bodies are feeling and interactions as simple as a hug could present discomfort or even pain. Seasons can present their own unique considerations and during the hot summer months, children with JA may have to take special care for their condition.
It’s important that everyone takes proper sun protection precautions but some medications for arthritis can cause increased photosensitivity. Even a short amount of time of sun exposure can result in sunburns, sun poisoning, or rashes. Utilize sun safety techniques to keep everyone in the family happy. Sunscreen is the most obvious step but don’t forget to reapply! Even the best of us forget sometimes. Sunscreens should be a minimum of 15 SPF but consider something around 30 or 50 SPF for better protection. It may seem weird to wear long sleeves in the summer but it offers great full-body protection if it’s a practical option, tightly woven fabrics offer the most cover. Hats and sunglasses are great summer accessories to keep on hand too, and while you’re at it, why not a sun umbrella? Take cover in shade and avoid being outside between 11 am and 3 pm, which is the hottest time of the day.
Summer heat swelling isn’t the same for kids with JA and unfortunately, there aren’t any solutions except managing symptoms. Avoid restrictive clothing and accessories, and opt for options that are easy to remove. Finding comfortable shoes will be important as feet that swell could lead to painful rubbing and blisters. Some children will like flip flops but others may prefer something that offers more support. It may take time to find shoes but it will be worth it to find the right pair. Jewelry might pose problems for swelling wrists, ankles, and fingers. Certain types of jewelry like bangles might be problematic when trying to remove so stick to jewelry with clasps and silicone rings can be a good alternative to metal, hard-to-remove versions. Stay cool by taking breaks from the heat with a dip in the pool, hiding out in the shade, or going indoors. Keeping cold compresses on hand can be useful for a quick cool down too.
Just because we’re avoiding the sun and heat doesn’t mean summer can’t be fun. Swimming and biking are great low-impact activities that a child with JA may enjoy while getting in some important exercise. Timing is important too—choosing to go to the beach or pool either early or late in the day can make a big difference. Mixing in indoor activities for the hot parts of the day or rest days can offer relief without ruining summer enjoyment. Summer often offers a variety of movie choices with blasting air conditioning. Lunch breaks inside are a good time to get out of the sun as well. There are a lot of indoor activities to keep the family occupied inside like games, crafts, science experiments, and pillow forts. This is a great time to let the imagination go wild!
Summer, and really any season, is a time to have fun! As with any child, being able to adjust and adapt to whatever situations arise will help things stay enjoyable. Keeping a bucket list of activities the family would like to do may make pivoting plans an easier transition.
Have a fun, fantastic, and safe summer!