Dr. Bianca Johnson is a pediatrician at the Sanford Health clinic in Harrisburg. Sioux Falls Simplified sat down with her to chat about what parents should keep in mind to ensure kids are healthy and safe all summer long.

Answers are edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to your current role.

I grew up in North Dakota and then went to medical school in North Dakota. Then I did my pediatric training at the Mayo Clinic.

I've always really enjoyed working with children. They are usually so happy to be in my office and very pleasant to be around – that's how I got into pediatrics.

My husband and I ended up coming to Sioux Falls when we had a really great opportunity, and we knew we wanted to stay in the Midwest and in the Dakotas.

What are some important things to keep in mind about health and safety during the summer months that we may not think about other times of the year?

The most obvious is sun safety and making sure that we are not only choosing a good, high quality sunscreen, but also applying it correctly.

Water safety is the other really big one.

  • For the younger age groups, that's actually one of the most common causes of death, and a lot of drownings in that age group happen in your own personal pool.
  • If you have a pool at home, make sure kids can't access it on their own.
  • For the older kids that actually know how to swim, usually their highest risk for drowning is in lakes, ponds, rivers, that kind of stuff.

And then be really good with supervision.

  • Make sure you're not distracting yourself too much. That's usually very high risk when we're at a get together or a BBQ, talking with friends or using alcohol and not providing supervision.
  • Even if your kids are good swimmers, they still need to have good supervision.

What's something people may misunderstand or forget about staying healthy in the summer months?

Heat – I think that's one we don't really think about being in South Dakota.

  • Especially with our infants – They can't verbalize if they're too hot. they could be overheating even if they're not actually sweating, so that's something to be very aware of.

There's a lot of different factors of, 'When is it too hot to take my kid out?'

  • It depends on humidity or the sun itself. Overcast and 85 degrees is different than full sun and 85 degrees.  
  • Parents need to be aware and always have a plan to take breaks when it's really hot out.

What should folks look for when buying sunscreen?

The official recommendation is that we're getting a broad spectrum of sunblock that covers UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 15 or higher.

For pediatrics, I actually really prefer more so like a sunblock. They don't rub in as great and leave a white coloring, but I like those for a couple reasons:

  • They use a zinc oxide product. It's best at blocking both UVA and UVB rays – that's the best protection that we can provide.
  • There's also a titanium oxide that they use for those type of products.

I would say go for at least SPF 30 – somewhere between 30 and 80.

  • Going above 80, you're just paying more for not much more protection.

What about bug spray?

It gets a little tricky because we worry about DEET in kids.

  • I will say there are lots of other really good alternative products out in the market that work well for mosquitos and other bugs.

When it comes to ticks, the DEET products are the best way to prevent tick bites, so if you know you're going somewhere that has a high risk of getting ticks, it's probably better to get that DEET.

Do you have any specific advice for kids who have allergies?

Find a product that they like to take.

  • My favorite is Zyrtec. I usually start with that one because it works well at not sedating, and it's once-a-day dosing.

The trick is to start taking it a couple weeks before the allergy season starts and continuing through the allergy season.

Some kids respond better to different antihistamines. You can try Claritin – there's lots of other different products on the market.

Another thing that's really helpful is Flonase or a nasal spray. That can really target right where the inflammation is happening.

Anything else folks should know?

The other big one I always talk about this time of year is helmets.

Any time a kid is on anything with wheels, they should have a helmet – even an 18-month-0ld on the little trikes.

  • Start young and continue to make sure they have helmets that fit them properly.